Saturday, September 24, 2016

E.T. Phone Earth…Please

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

On 26 August, San Francisco 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick did what backup quarterbacks do: He took a seat.  Then all aitch-e-el-el broke loose. 

Kaepernick didn’t sit quietly with a cap and a clipboard.  To raise awareness of persistent racism, the uneven extension of Constitutional rights and, more specifically, the recent killings of minorities by law enforcement, Kaepernick sat loudly in silence while the Star Spangled Banner played.

In a post-game interview with NFL Media, Kaepernick explained his anthem protest: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

The initial reaction to Kaepernick’s act - mostly unproductive, misplaced outraged – was predictable.  He was called un-America and told to leave the country.  His jersey was burned.  Former NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck lauded the end of his career as a starting quarterback.  Resident NASCAR hot-head Tony Stewart urged him to learn the facts before “running his dumb_ss mouth” and called him a “#idiot”. 

Former NFL safety Rodney Harrison produced this best-of-the-worst reactions: “I tell you this, I’m a black man.  And Colin Kaepernick, he’s not black.  He cannot understand what I face and what other young black people face, or people of color face on a every single day basis.” 

For the record, Kaepernick’s father is black and his mother is white.  To his credit, Harrison apologized profusely for his ignorance.

These impulsive reactions are indicative of an increasingly polarized society, one that is easily offended, quick to react and slow to listen and contemplate different perspectives.  Whether it’s a majority of people or just a loud, obnoxious minority that drowns out measured, objective thought, issues are increasingly classified in either black or white, yes or no, left or right terms.  Regardless of the political issue, scant shades of gray exist or can be developed through constructive debate.  No wonder Congress – representatives of the electorate – is so divided.    

Knowing this, maybe that’s why Kaepernick played the anthem card.  A few weeks ago, NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul and LeBron James collectively addressed this same issue during the ESPY Awards.  Despite the star power, the message lacked staying power.  But Kaepernick’s protest boiled blood.  While the words expressed by those NBA stars were important, the approach was too polite.  History indicates that social change is often only achieved through intense agitation.  Kaepernick agitated us and demanded an outcome all Americans should desire: equality and improved relations between communities and law enforcement.   

Whatever you think of Kaepernick’s protest, his vilification should raise concerns.  We are a nation founded on discord - it is as much a part of our fabric as the anthem itself.  The Second Amendment is vehemently defended.  The Thirteenth, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments were secured, in part, by passionately using the same First Amendment rights Kaepernick exercised this past August.  Yet Kaepernick was personally attacked for his peaceful – albeit intentionally inflammatory - public protest.  And this while the state of Texas has been flirting with succession – the ultimate defiance of our American union - for a decade.    

This excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” is inscribed on the north wall of the MLK Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

Dr. King’s quote captures Kaepernick’s fundamental point: We have a problem that cannot be ignored.  We must address this American imperfection – this disconnect between reality and the promises of our Declaration and Constitution - and collectively work toward a common solution. 

That only happens if the message is received by open minds.  Maybe we need something other-worldly to remind us of our shared human cause.  Scientists did receive a strong extraterrestrial signal last week.  E.T., if that was you calling, your timing was impeccable.   

No comments:

Post a Comment