In a 2006 episode of 60 Minutes, Morgan Freeman suggested that a way to end racism was to “stop talking about it.”
We may never know if he is right, but the recent refusals of several NFL players to stand for the national anthem, which began with Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, has proven one thing: People of color do not have to talk about racism for it to unveil itself.
No speaking or dialogue. No words. Just kneeling.
All it took for Kaepernick and others to get an entire country to desecrate black lives was a kneel-down.
Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, “wholeheartedly disagrees” with Kaepernick’s actions and said the American flag was “sacred.” Former Chicago Bears head coach, Mike Ditka went as far to say that Kaepernick should “get the hell out” of the U.S. if he dislikes it so much.
Neither of those two famous figures will say that in between Kaepernick’s first kneel-down and the publication of this article three black men have made national headlines being killed by police.
Yet again, three more cities will ignite in protest.
The residents of Charlotte, El Cajon and Tulsa will hear the same furious chants that citizens in Baltimore, Chicago, Ferguson, Falcon Heights and Baton Rouge heard. Friends and families will mourn until a few months later when the cycle repeats itself.
However, Brees, Ditka and every fan who has burned Kaepernick’s jersey decided that a song and a piece of cloth, which equate to mere symbolism, is of greater value than the lives lost from police violence.
Of course, it’s not the song and the flag are unimportant. Symbolism is important to all nations, including our own, but, in the grand scheme of things, we have to realize that they are only symbols. They give us feelings and nothing else.
The act of respectfully standing up for symbols is a symbol itself.
Are symbols worth more than actual, tangible people as Ditka and Brees suggest? Do black lives really matter less than a poem about a fort?
That’s how Kaepernick’s protest can be summarized. A football player who chose not to symbolically respect a symbolic flag and song as a way of protesting actual, non-symbolic oppression now needs to “get the hell out.”
This comes at a divisive time in American history. With the presidential race nearing its final month, the cries calling for better leadership, greater reforms and a healthier economy imply that our country needs to improve.
Meanwhile, Kaepernick and his fellow anthem-sitters are passing on the same message—but without fancy speeches and rallies.
People don’t need to speak of building walls or banning religions to suggest that we need to create a better society. As the NFL has demonstrated, sometimes a simple refusal to stand can reach further and resonate deeper.
So no, Kaepernick and all other football players exercising their freedom of expression should not “get the hell out.”
In fact, we should rejoice having their company in this country, because right now hardly anyone in this country or the NFL is as much of a patriot as Kaepernick and his fellow anthem-sitters.
They continue to live in this country even when they know they’re statistically more likely to be victims of police violence.
Players, broadcasters and journalists throughout the world of football refuse to recognize that their freedom from police tyranny is more important than the anthem, and yet they still continue to play in the NFL.
Actually, Ditka is half-right. Kaepernick and the rest of these players have every option to “get the hell out” of this country if they wanted to, especially given their probable wealth.
But they haven’t.
They’ve stayed to help build a greater country, despite the fact that they, and any of their family members or friends, are more likely to suffer from abuse by police officers.