Dear Colin Kaepernick,
Hi there. Big fan.
Everyone is upset because you didn’t stand for the national anthem the other night. And you said it was because of the mistreatment of black people in this country. I want to tell you a few things.
I think you are very brave. What you did took so much courage. And what you said about it took even more courage.
As a public person, I know how tempting and terrifying it can be to make a public statement. But as I have written about several times in the last few years, when it comes to race in America, our country is in deep denial and it’s disgusting and unacceptable. And enough is enough. Your act and your words will live on for a long time in my heart as a lover of justice, a supporter of civil rights, and a sports fan who believes that athletes can and should be people we admire.
In the words of the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
And for the record, I am the grandchild of immigrants and this country took my family in when the world was turning a blind eye to their suffering and Hitler’s attempts to eliminate us from the planet. I love this country and I am a proud American. I respect the values our country seeks to uphold and I respect the men and women who have given their lives for this country.
I don’t think your act showed disrespect for veterans or service people in this country and we should stop pretending that that’s the issue. As long as we continue to pretend that the issue is about you not standing for the anthem, rather than about the continued mistreatment, discrimination, abuse and senseless murder of black people in this country, we cannot claim to live up to the values of our flag.
The great Jackie Robinson said the following in his autobiography about saluting the flag:
There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
In so many countries in this world, you would not be allowed your actions or your voice without threat of arrest, imprisonment or even death for speaking or acting against your country. I am grateful that the NFL has acknowledged their preference for athletes to stand, while still respecting your right to not stand. They said, “In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.” That’s the America I belong to.
God bless America; you, Colin; and people like you who defend its values for all.
Have a great season. Go 49ers!