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Kaepernick’s Right to Sit Down During the National Anthem

Is it Time for the 49ers to ‘Sack’ Kaepernick?

In ethics we say there is a difference between what a person has a right to do and what the right thing to do is. This is the question raised by Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the playing of our National Anthem. No one denies Kaepernick has a right to sit rather than stand. However, were his actions justifiable?

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback refused to stand for the National Anthem in last Friday’s pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers because he was protesting “black oppression” in the United States. Kaepernick has been quoted as saying: "I am not going to stand 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."

Kaepernick's statement has more holes in it than Swiss Cheese, from an ethical perspective. All of a sudden he has become a community activist when there is no past history of doing so. This begs the question of his authenticity. Kaepernick could have selected a more appropriate venue to exercise his free speech rights. The issues he raises are real ones that cry out for an open and frank discussion by all parties, something missing from our national dialogue and in this Presidential election cycle.

It's ironic that Kaepernick claims it would be selfish on his part to ignore the issues that have arisen over police shootings of black men. Selfishness, in my view, is the motive for his actions. Did he consider the consequences of his action on his teammates, the 49ers organization, and the NFL? Or, was this an opportunistic action by someone not used to being out of the limelight?

Kaepernick is part of a team and if he genuinely felt the need to protest the way he did, a responsible action would have been to discuss it with his teammates and organization beforehand. Such an action would have garnered respect throughout the football community. Unfortunately, Kaepernick said he had not informed the team of his intentions. His insensitivity brings into question the motives for his action.

Kaepernick also decries those policemen who have been investigated in the aftermath of shootings and "getting paid leave and getting away with murder." The last time I looked a person being investigated for committing a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Has Kaepernick now anointed himself as judge and jury? 

I realize some athletes, entertainers, and others with high visibility choose to use their positions in life to protest one thing or another. There is an argument to be made that such actions are justified. But, there is a time and place for everything. Unfortunately, Kaepernick chose the wrong time and the wrong place.

Angelina Jolie is an example of someone who has used her celebrity status to promote good causes around the world and has gained international respect for her actions. She has advocated for global interests such as launching the Global Action for Children Program to help orphaned children around the world and is a UN Special Envoy for refugees. She and Brad Pitt have adopted three orphaned children and are finalizing plans to adopt a Syrian orphaned-refugee-child. Her actions are selfless; she has never sought notoriety for her actions; she has been circumspect about her intentions; and most would agree she is a ‘class act.’

Is there a way to justify Kaepernick's actions? We can look to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, a British writer, who famously said in The Friends of Voltaire:  "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The context of this statement is often misunderstood. The elegant phrase depicted Hall’s conception of Voltaire’s internal mental attitude and not his actual spoken words.

Finally, it seems to me Kaepernick would have been better served if he reached out to a sports journalist such as Stephen A. Smith, a well-respected commentator on ESPN First Take, and shared his point of view. Stephen A would have challenged him, no doubt, in the interests of having an open dialogue on the important issues he raises. His beliefs would have been taken off the football field where the game is paramount, not one's political views, and into a more appropriate arena to discuss the treatment of blacks and actions of the police.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 1, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: