PARTSCH: Time to start listening to those who take a stand by sitting down
Gazette Managing Editor Raymond Partsch III
I am not going to lie, it freakin’ pissed me off.
Like many of my fellow football-loving Americans, I was enraged when I first saw that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did not stand for the national anthem during a recent NFL preseason game.
I personally take immense pride in our nation’s flag because it represents to me the bountiful possibility of what it means to be an American.
My grandmother and great aunt both left war-ravaged Germany during World War II and settled here with their husbands in the States. They built a new life filled with freedom not known to them earlier. My mother meanwhile was born in Germany as well, and she came through Ellis Island in New York as an infant and found a home in the United States as she would be adopted by a Jewish woman from Brooklyn.
I salute the flag and more importantly salute the veterans like my younger brother who served in the Army and did three tours overseas, who fought for that precious element that makes our country so great — freedom.
As upset as Kaepernick’s stance may have made me, I refrained from spewing my anger on social media at him or those who support him once I found out why he refused to stand.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said afterwards. “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.”
Even though I might not 100 percent agree with his sentiment, I respect his decision to voice it.
For me, it goes beyond just the fact that the First Amendment gives Kaepernick the right to not stand during the anthem. It comes down to a simple truth, one which I hold dear. It is not my place to tell another human being how they should feel about our country, flag or our anthem.
Every single American in this country has an American experience that is inherently unique to them. What it means to be an American to a Korean immigrant in California is going to differ than that of a third-generation Irish American from Rhode Island.
Just like I, as a man, have no idea what it is like in this country, or in society in general, to be a woman. To deal with being sexually objectified on a daily basis or not being as valued in the workplace because of gender is something no matter how hard I might try to sympathize with, I will fully never understand.
So what right do I have to tell a professional football player of mixed races, raised by white parents, how he should feel about his country? To try to enforce my feelings on another individual is in itself un-American, as should be the knee-jerk racially charged vitriolic whites have thrown Kaepernick’s way.
The internet was engulfed in Kaepernick hatred with everything from telling him to leave the country to that he was nothing but an uneducated thug, to one fan burning his jersey.
The latter brought back memories of fans (mostly white) burning the jersey of LeBron James when he left Cleveland for Miami. You don’t see black or brown folks setting clothes ablaze because a grown black man made a business decision. That is an uniquely and disturbing white issue.
The Kaepernick backlash also just reminded me of the hypocrisy outraged whites shouted at last month’s Rio Olympics.
That is when U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas failed to place her hand over her heart on the medal podium during the anthem. The African-American Douglas was widely trounced on social media for the action, including inspiring all-too-common racism.
Yet where was the outrage about Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs? Those being the two white Americans that took gold and silver in the shot put competition. The two kept their hands at their side during the anthem. Yet not a single peep about them disgracing veterans or the United States was uttered.
This practice of white fans being outraged by the behavior of a minority rather than someone of their own skin color has long been part of the sports landscape.
For years in the NFL, it was deemed as fact that blacks didn’t have the mental capacity to handle being a professional quarterback. Despite the accomplishments of Doug Williams and Warren Moon proving otherwise more than three decades ago, black players are still held to a higher standard.
Kaepernick was the same player that Sporting News columnist David Whitley criticized back in 2012 for his tattoos writing “San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is going to be a big-time NFL quarterback. That must make the guys in San Quentin happy.”
Because if you are black and have tattoos then that automatically makes you a convicted felon. Yet, white NFL quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Smith both have tattoos. As do a slew of white offensive lineman, defensive lineman, linebackers and even some coaches.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton got raked over the coals repeatedly last season for his touchdown celebrations, the ones where he pretends to rip open his suit like Superman or do the “dab” before giving a ball to a fan in the stands. For his act, Newton was routinely called immature, a classless showboat and unsportsmanlike.
Yet Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has spent his career making the motion of putting on a championship belt and leaps into the stands at Lambeau Field after scoring touchdowns. Yet, Rodgers isn’t called what Newton is.
Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman inspired a litany of criticism and racist remarks online from white fans for a post-game interview with everyone’s favorite white sideline reporter Erin Andrews. Sherman was animated about making a game-winning play during the NFC Championship Game and talked plenty of trash, but he never cursed at anyone including Andrews. Yet that doesn’t stop thousands from spewing bile at him.
New England quarterback Tom Brady meanwhile has been just as demonstrative, like getting into shouting matches with his offensive coordinator or chasing after officials following a game while dropping f-bombs on live television. Yet Brady remains the golden boy known as a leader and winner while Sherman is still referred to as an uneducated gorilla.
Tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams received such hate at a tournament in Indian Wells, Cal., which Serena boycotted for a decade. Why? A member of her family was called a nigger by white fans, and even had one man say “I wish it was ‘75. We’d skin you alive.”
And we wonder why many of our country’s black and brown athletes feel disenchanted and enraged?
Part of the white population invokes embedded racism so easily, while another portion refuses to see the hypocrisy in demonizing black and brown athletes but not having the same vigor to verbally attack white athletes.
That is called bigotry folks, plain and simple.
Yet, as I write this the support within the African-American community for Kaepernick’s public stance has also swelled in the past week. During Thursday night’s final preseason game, Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid, a Baton Rouge native and former LSU star, joined him in kneeling during the national anthem. That same night, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane, a former star at Northwestern State University, also sat during the anthem.
African-American sporting social icons such as Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have both publicly supported Kaepernick as well.
But for me, the most significant support has come from veterans, as hundreds of thousands have used the hash tag #VeteransForKaepernick.
Former NFL long snapper and Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, who is white, wrote an open letter to Kaepernick about how angry his stance made him, but that he respected his right to protest because he didn’t know what it was like to walk in his shoes.
The 49ers quarterback read the letter and promptly invited Boyer to Thursday’s game, where the two talked prior to the game along with Reid, and that conversation is why Kaepernick and Reid opted to kneel instead of sit, as to be more respectful.
You see Boyer, a white man and veteran, none-the-less understood that we have to do a better job as whites in understanding what is going on with our black and brown brothers and sisters.
Whether we have done it consciously or not, we have spent a large portion of the past two generations separating ourselves from minorities as we have been part of “white flight” from the inner cities, which has seen whites relocate to large gated communities with other whites, and subsequently have their children enroll in private schools where they are less likely to be exposed to people of different colors or backgrounds.
Meanwhile we have turned a blind eye to the problems that are crippling the minority communities, such as poverty, crime and education.
We can do — no scratch that — must do better not only as white people but as Americans with trying to better understand those daunting challenges and help close the schism between the races. This is a great country, the greatest in the world, but it does have serious and in some cases long-standing problems.
That said, there is no doubt in my mind that those wounds will never heal if we continue to hate someone for simply taking a seat while the song that gives them that right plays.
This is United States of America, and we are better than this. Let’s do something about it.