It has been a banner week for the takes. It’s certainly aided by the fact that there are no real sports and the one legitimate controversy is sucking up all the oxygen, feeding a maelstrom swirling about the peak of Mt. Take, but it’s been extraordinary to see so many people reveal themselves as unsophisticated thinkers—or just as downright confused. Think of the very last person whose opinion you want to hear on Colin Kaepernick. He’s weighed in. Think of the very first person you’d tell “You might wanna sit this one out, buddy.” He’s weighed in too. I’ve got some bad news for you: it’s only about to get worse.
Kaepernick has confirmed he will continue his protest, which he has enacted throughout the preseason even though it wasn’t noticed until last week, at the 49ers’ final warm-up game in San Diego on Thursday night. That’ll be the Chargers’ “Salute to the military” night, so subtext is about to become supertext.
One of the most pernicious arguments against Kaepernick’s right to protest America’s flaws and failings is that it is somehow disrespectful to the military—that the “The Star-Spangled Banner” somehow represents the troops. I don’t think that follows. The song itself is about a battle, but that’s about the extent of it. The song and the flag represent the country, good and bad, and if they’ve been used for the same jingoistic ends that wrap the NFL itself in the flag, it’s still possible to untangle them. Just as you can stand for the anthem without respecting the military’s ends, you can sit for the anthem without disrespecting the people who serve.
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” Kaepernick said. “I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up.”
Yet the conflation of Kaepernick’s griefs against institutional societal problems with his feelings on service members is only due to get more intense in San Diego tomorrow night, where the anthem and “God Bless America” will be performed by a naval officer while hundreds of marines and soldiers present a comically oversized American flag. Remember that someone is shoving their politics in your face at these games, and it’s not Kaepernick.
Just as unfair as projecting onto Kaepernick would be for me to paint this as two unified sides squaring off. Kaepernick himself noted the difference between the military and the people who actually comprise it, and over the last day, a “Veterans for Kaepernick” movement has emerged on Twitter, with men and women in uniform sharing their support for, if not always Kaepernick’s message, his right to deliver it.