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On Colin Kaepernick and America

| Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Last Friday night, Colin Kaepernick quickly transformed from a subpar backup quarterback into one of America’s most polarizing figures. Kaepernick, as many already know, chose to sit down during the playing of the national anthem prior to Friday’s game versus the Green Bay Packers. After the game, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Additionally, he accused police officers of “getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Quite unsurprisingly, this caused great controversy.

At first, I did not think Kaepernick’s display deserved prolonged discussion, let alone an article in The Observer. However, as I observed the efforts of many in the media to defend Kaepernick’s decision and considered the harmful impact such a display could have, I concluded that it was certainly appropriate to devote time and effort to call into question his actions.

It is important to affirm that Colin Kaepernick has the absolute right to sit down during the national anthem. I, in no way, intend to assert he should be unable to express his beliefs, no matter how unfounded they are. It is ironic, however, that Kaepernick is choosing to disrespect America by utilizing the rights that the nation guarantees him. He is, essentially, clinging onto the core ideals of the very nation he claims to be condemning. In doing so, Kaepernick is being not only counterintuitive but hypocritical. Still, it is his right to be so.

With that said, the First Amendment does not entitle one to say or act without fear of criticism. In fact, when displays as thoughtless and disrespectful as Kaepernick’s are made, criticism is not only appropriate, it is necessary. Unfortunately, many people have failed in this regard. Many of those who have criticized Kaepernick have done so clumsily. People have asserted that Kaepernick’s argument is invalid because of his biracial heritage or the fact that his adoptive parents are white. Numerous people have also emphasized his wealth when criticizing the display. These people have it all wrong. Kaepernick’s race, parents, or wealth do not disqualify his argument; rather, his blanket generalizations and unsupported accusations do.

There is no question racism still exists in America. We, as a nation, continue to struggle in eradicating such an evil. Additionally, it is undeniably true that police brutality is an issue the nation is currently grappling with. However, to move from recognizing such realities to accusing an entire nation and government of systematically oppressing a particular group of people is absolutely ludicrous. In stating that America, collectively as a nation, oppresses people of color, Kaepernick relies on spouting incendiary rhetoric, instead of providing appropriate evidence.

Colin Kaepernick deliberately disrespected the United States, and he did so in conjunction with unsubstantiated indictments of law enforcement and America as a whole. For that, he should be scrutinized in the public eye. We are setting a very dangerous precedent if we allow reckless demonstrations such as Kaepernick’s to go unchallenged.

America is not a flawless nation, but it is also not a land of oppression. We should all feel compelled to stand during the national anthem, not as a proclamation of American perfection but out of a dual sense of gratitude and readiness to make positive change.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Eddie Damstra

Eddie is a junior from Orland Park, Illinois. He is majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Constitutional Studies and plans on pursuing law school after his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame.

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  • Daniel Esparza

    While you bring up some valid points, there’s a couple old chestnuts to address:

    “…choosing to disrespect America by utilizing the rights that the nation guarantees him.”

    That could be used to excuse the actions of any nation that gives people some basic rights. I don’t see anything contradictory about showing disdain for a nation that has failed to rid itself of the outdated hegemony that it was built upon. This, of course, is not something that is fixed by “voting the right people in,” since nobody on the ballot – local, state, or national – has that power.


    For many people at Notre Dame, I’ve noticed this to be the mainstream thought behind, for example, desecrating the flag. They see a Rage Against the Machine Album cover, or anarchists burning flags in parks, and think of it as an act of hate, treason, or a call to unjust violence. The truth is, *that depends.* It depends on who’s doing the burning, and what for. Normally it’s to elicit a response to a social issue that was unable to make headlines before. This type of display works. In the US, it works so well *because* of the heavy nationalism that we’re indoctrinated in from a young age. The best part is, all he did to get a response was to avoid one of the many social expectations that only exist with the state.

    “…accusing an entire nation and government of systematically oppressing a particular group of people is absolutely ludicrous.”

    Governments, or more accurately, “states,” are the only agents capable of carrying out systemic oppression. (I’m using a more general, outdated definition of state: Where there exists social hierarchy, there exists a state apparatus).

    “…not a land of oppression.”

    That really depends on the scope.

    “stand…out of a dual sense of gratitude and readiness to make positive change”

    Violence against people of color in the US will always remain a non-issue in the media until people begin to stir the pot. Progressive social change, empirically, has never happened until someone broke rules, customs, or caused damage. At best, activism that seeks to remain “kosher” only results in casual reforms that fail to, and actually perpetuate, the social structure that caused the injustice.

    A lot of these are just my opinions. They come from a place of anti-nationalism and anti-capitalism, so naturally I see rejection of norms that are based on nationalism and capitalism as a strategic political move. The point is, from my point of view, Kaepernick’s actions are a sign of solidarity. And based on my experience with cops, and that of my friends back home (all law-abiding citizens), this type of solidarity is a refreshing break from all the prayers and moments-of-silence that inevitably fall on deaf ears.

    P.S: When I stand for the pledge, I’m actually faking it.

    • Nathan Troscinski

      How is this protest anti-capitalist?

      • Daniel Esparza

        My wording was a bit off, I meant that protests such as these look entirely different from someone opposed to capitalism and nationalism than someone who is unopposed to them. I only brought that up to explain how from my point of view, actions such as these are not done with the intention of dissing Americans, but to express disdain for the aspects of America that cause harm to Americans.

        That sentence should read, “…my opinions, which come from a place of anti-nationalism and anti-capitalism…”

        tl;dr: I was referring to my point of view, not the protest.

        • Nathan Troscinski

          Mmm, that makes more sense. Just confused by that.

          On a different note, what do you feel is the ideal next step in this type of protest? The nation’s attention has been grabbed, so how does that get translated into meaningful change?

          • Daniel Esparza

            There are a couple different ways of going about this. For most people that agree with him, it’s best to have others (namely, famous people) follow suit and to have protests like those of BLM to continue long enough to have reform enacted.

            For someone like me, this process is necessary but is too slow on it’s own. The end goal is usually not concrete among movements like these, and as we saw from the Occupy movement, moderates will begin to disperse if they feel like *something* changed, while the more radical ones will feel as though nothing has changed at all, and give up on the movement. In other words, we can expect some positive change to happen if what is happening in these movements is allowed to happen.

            Here’s the kicker (and this is coming from a “radical”), there will be radical people who will join in. This is a natural occurrence for any progressive movement, and the larger the movement (like the Civil Rights Movement), the more radical presence. Therefore, what’s important is that we collectively educate others on what the movement as a whole is about, and ensure that members are clear of the goals. The media, as it has always done, will attribute the actions of the more radical members to the movement as a whole. This will cause bystanders to see social change as counter-intuitive to their well being, thus causing a large influx of people who oppose the movement based on their devotion to “order” rather than “justice.” This is an issue that MLK talked about in his Birmingham Letter:


            What I would *hate* to see happen is a snuffing out of the more radical members. The failures of the Civil Rights Movement can be directly attributed to the counter-intelligence operations enacted by the FBI. As an example, this document showing their intents to “neutralize potential troublemakers:”


            Some people in the progressive clubs on campus would know more about it, and may have a different opinion on the place that radicals have in the movement. I’m not going to lie, anarchists support movements like this. People don’t like anarchists. BUT, that does not mean there’s anything “anarchistic” about the movement, or the people involved. If we could hold the public’s feet to the fire about this distinction, then legitimate change can occur.

  • warmupthediesel

    Just watch this comment section unfold. You’ll have two types of people….people who hate America….and people who love America. It’s pretty obvious to tell who is who. God, Country, Notre Dame. Really hope the America-haters at Notre Dame stand for the anthem at the Navy game….at least the midshipmen deserve respect, right?

    • Nathan Troscinski

      “You’ll have two types of people….”
      People who know what a false dichotomy is…and those who don’t

  • Nathan Troscinski

    There was an interesting article I read a while back that outlined the idea that calm, respectable protests tend to garner more support, but less attention while the opposite held true for controversial protest tactics.

    What we’re seeing here is a playing out of that idea. Kaepernick’s protest will rub many people the wrong way, but the issue he is raising is of critical importance. It’s important now that the discussion be steered away from Kaepernick himself and focus more on his message regarding the plight of racial minorities. There is considerable evidence that the problem he’s citing is legitimate and if a controversial action is required to keep the public discussing it, this seems to be a fairly harmless way to go about it.