NFL football player Colin Kaepernick continues his national anthem protests, which have been met with polarizing reactions from the general public, as well as ongoing coverage from black news websites. Kaepernick lives somewhere at the intersection between politics, sports, black entertainment news, and celebrity gossip, and things are about to get even more awkward for the San Francisco 49ers this Veterans Day.
Colin Kaepernick has taken to kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner” as a means to bring attention to police brutality and oppression of African Americans in the United States. But what many people don’t realize — largely because he didn’t want the story to be covered by less-reputable celeb gossip websites or by reporters who would misconstrue it — is that Colin Kaepernick has been doing more than just peaceful protesting. He recently founded a program called “Know Your Rights Camp,” a free campaign geared towards minority youth. Its purpose is to provide the self-empowerment, education, and instruction needed in order to interact with law enforcement safely.
African Americans represent around 15% of our nation’s population, but they are much more likely to be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated than white people. Despite the fact that white people and black people smoke pot at similar rates, black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. And although African Americans represent only 35% of drug arrests, 46% of people who are convicted of drug related crimes are black. When convicted for a felony, black defendants were incarcerated 51% of the time, while white felony offenders were incarcerated only 38% of the time.
Kaepernick’s camp tries to address this huge disparity by educating youth about their rights, as well as instructing them on how to become successful members of society. Inspired by the Black Panther Party, the program’s inspirational 10-point plan not only highlights the ongoing problem of police brutality but also teaches kids about financial literacy, nutrition, and the pursuit of their dreams.
More than 100 kids turned out for the camp in Oakland, California. Kaepernick turned down corporate sponsors, saying that he didn’t want it covered in current celebrity news outlets. He wanted the attendees and their parents to know that the event was being put on for them, rather than coverage in entertainment news sites.
Kaepernick’s reasons for protesting the national anthem are not selfish ones, either. Though the quarterback has graced the cover of Time magazine, his ongoing efforts to highlight racial inequality and violence against minorities certainly isn’t for the sake of black celeb gossip or fawning news coverage. His team has stood (or kneeled) in solidarity with his efforts, and though the 49ers could have legally fired Kaepernick for his actions, they chose to support his efforts instead.
But the team also made a big effort to pay tribute to our nation’s military this past week. The 49ers recently unveiled a special veterans exhibit at the team museum, after honoring vets with a patriotic on-field ceremony. A huge American flag held by military personnel was unfurled during halftime, and Kaepernick stuck with his tradition of kneeling during the national anthem.
Some black celebrity gossip hounds might think that these actions make for a strange juxtaposition against Kaepernick’s protests, but others realized that his efforts were not meant to disrespect veterans and their service. They are simply meant to highlight the racial injustice taking place throughout the country.
In fact, the exhibit — called “Gridiron Heroes: The Stories of 49ers Military Veterans,” — has helped to spur thoughtful discussion about former players who served and the potential consequences of Kaepernick’s protests. His supporters say that his actions show courage and that “respectful dissent is part of this country.”
Another visitor to the museum added that respecting veterans while highlighting ongoing injustice is completely possible — the two are not mutually exclusive. “You can stand up for one and still appreciate the other,” she said.
Some veterans were offended by Kaepernick’s actions, citing that respect for the flag and for veterans are intertwined. Ultimately though, many conceded that Kaepernick does have a right to his opinion, as well as the right to express it.
In the end, the 49ers wanted to express their gratitude for those who have served our country in the military. Regardless of what’s happening in our own nation today, museum director Jesse Lovejoy stated that “having strong feelings and pride and support for military service was never a question for the 49ers.”
The veterans exhibit will remain on display until the end of football season.