Colin Kapernick has gained widespread media attention, both positive and negative, through the simple and silent act of kneeling. But that simple act demands context. As author and pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman once noted, “In and of itself nothing really matters. What matters is that nothing is ever in and of itself.”
Kapernick may forever go down in history as the San Francisco quarterback who took a knee during the national anthem. Many players have followed in his footsteps. It is an act that has been received in several different ways. Some see it as a sign of disrespect to American troops and to a nation that has given players the opportunities and privileges that come with being in the NFL. Others see it as a courageous and heartfelt act, raising awareness of a broad array of issues within our nation.
So what brought the former 49ers quarterback to settle on taking a knee? During a press conference in August 2016, Kapernick attempted to give an answer, “People don’t realize what’s going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for, freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
When asked to be more specific, Kapernick commented, “There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
Players’ actions and these statements have led to an array of others--including President Trump, former President Obama, and almost every major news outlet--to comment. In a recent statement from Oct. 23 Trump tweeted, “Two dozen NFL players continue to kneel during the National Anthem, showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country. No leadership in NFL.” The President’s comments make it clear where he stands on the issue.
In contrast, former Obama’s statements, made during a CNN interview in September of 2016, express a different view.
“I want Mr. Kapernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing,” he said. “But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.”
The opinions and conversations haven’t stopped there. Here, on the campus of Mount St. Joseph University, the Campus Ministry Club, headed by President Sarah Gravunder, have created events they call, Project Neighbor. According to the Mount’s website, Project Neighbor consists of “speaker engagements focused on various aspects of faith and spirituality to spur off community discussion and personal reflection.”
One such event on Oct. 13 centered around the topic of kneeling in the NFL. While not everyone expressed the same opinions, every student was heard in a safe and constructive setting.
According to Kapernick, what’s truly important is that these conversations are taking place. In that same press conference, Kapernick responds, “No, I don’t see it being a distraction. It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from. And if we reach common ground, and can understand what everybody’s going through, we can really affect change. And make sure everyone is treated equally and has the same freedom.”
Whether you agree with Mr. Kapernick or not, there is no doubt that his actions have seen success, not in making any great change, but in starting a conversation, that according to him, is necessary.