While Colin Kaepernick, a backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, continues to keep a knee as “The Star-Spangled Banner” blares, he does so at great risk to his future in the NFL, knowing his image is taking a sack, but he feels that his message has to be heard.
And as difficult as it will be for his critics to concede, Kaepernick’s protest has gotten traction as other athletes have joined in, forcing a national conversation, which is always a good thing, and millions of dollars has been raised to promote better relations between Bay Area police and the communities they serve, including a donation of $1 million by Kaepernick himself.
There are a lot of people who believe that Kaepernick, who is paid millions of dollars to play a game, is unappreciative of the opportunities this country has provided him, so time will tell if he pays a substantial personal price that makes him regret his actions. We should remember, however, that similar forms of non-violent protest have in the past worked in favor of a better and more inclusive America.
Kaepernick obviously has a First Amendment right to such a protest, and his doing so is actually very American, and not the opposite. That is unless his employer, whose uniform he is wearing, were to tell him to stand up and be respectful during the national anthem, and to make any protest on his own time. That the 49ers management hasn’t is a bit of an upset, because Kaepernick is losing, not winning, fans for the franchise.
But 19 members of the East Carolina University’s band, the Marching Pirates, learned this past Saturday that all protests of the national anthem are not created equally. When they took a knee before the Pirates’ game with Central Florida, they made a second mistake of not joining their fellow band mates in performing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which provoked anger and then boos from the purple-clad crowd.
University officials, to their credit, were quick with a response.
While Chancellor Cecil Staton issued a statement acknowledging band members’ right to express themselves, band director William Staub, School of Music director Christopher Ulffers and College of Fine Arts and Communication dean Christopher Buddo said in a joint statement they “regret the actions” and that the 19 “will learn from this experience and fulfill their responsibilities.” They went even further, calling the protests “hurtful to many in our Pirate family and disrespectful to our country.”
What the band members forgot that day, is the only reason they were on the field was to perform for the crowd — and they had a duty to do so. Moreover, they were wearing uniforms representing East Carolina University, and they should act in a manner that respects the university, not go rogue.
Even though most Americans find it offensive, it is OK if Kaepernick takes a knee on the sidelines and before the kickoff, but he can’t take a knee while under center and on the football field. That in effect is what members of the ECU band did — and why they were wrong to do so.