Niners' Kaepernick may be wrong, but he's not un-American

COLIN KAEPERNICK isn't trying to defend his actions. He did not say he did not know the etiquette of what Americans should do when the national anthem is played.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback did not argue that his refusal to stand during the presentation of The Star-Spangled Banner before Friday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers was an intentional act of disrespect toward the United States of America.

He left no doubt that he knew what he was doing and that it was not a mistake.

"I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick explained to Steve Wyche of NFL.com. "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."

On Sunday, he said he would continue to sit during the anthem saying he was going "to stand with the people that are being oppressed."

To be clear, Kaepernick's action was an act of protest. His protest was in reaction to the issue of police officers having encounters with citizens of color; people who are unarmed in many cases, being killed, and the law officer almost always being cleared of inappropriate action.

It is an issue that has been a focus of the African-American community for decades and has recently become a hot-button topic in the public debate on race relations.

The debate has intensified during an election season with both political parties seeking to use it as a tool in their arsenal to garner votes.

It is not my intention to condemn or defend Kaepernick.

Growing up in a military family, I was taught to respect the flag, the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance.

But I also understand that what I am honoring are the principles of the nation those things represent. In my view, the national anthem means nothing unless you believe in the Constitution of the United States.

Since I believe in the Constitution, I can simultaneously disagree with Kaepernick's actions while supporting his right as an American to express his feelings in any non-violent and legal form of protest he wants.

In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the burning of the American flag is protected under the First Amendment.

If burning the flag is not illegal, then sitting during the playing of the national anthem is certainly not illegal.

I would not have chosen that way.

Still something not being illegal is not the same as it being socially acceptable, and Kaepernick's refusal to honor the national anthem is near the top of the list of socially unacceptable things.

Kaepernick received criticism and support on social media from fellow professional athletes.

Tennessee Titans receiver Rishard Matthews tweeted, "Come on bro this is the land of the Free BECAUSE of the Brave that's what our Flag represents."

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn tweeted, "The easy thing to do is to make fun of Kap and his play. How about trying to understand where he is coming from . . . But that would be too hard."

In a particularly blunt tweet, former San Francisco Giants pitcher Aubrey Huff suggested Kaepernick get out of the country.

In reaction to Huff, in particular, I've always found it interesting how many people defend things based on freedom of speech until the thing said is not what they want to hear.

Still as much as Kaepernick has the right to express his views through his protest, others have the right to criticize him for taking that stance.

I've always said that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of that speech.

From what he told Wyche, Kaepernick understands the potential ramifications.

Kaepernick is risking scorn by fans, the loss of endorsements from companies that do not want to be associated with an unpopular stance and even possible penalties from the NFL - which has the right to protect its brand.

He said he is OK with that.

"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he told NFL.com. "I am not looking for approval.

"I have to stand up for people that are oppressed . . . If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."

Many argue that sport is not the proper platform for social stances. Still, it is nevertheless a powerful one for drawing attention to what you are trying to say.

In the past, Kaepernick's posts on social media against police violence, xenophobia and racism, have gone largely unnoticed.

On Friday, he said nothing. He just sat when others felt he should be standing.

We asked why and found out it was a form of protest.

You don't have to like what Colin Kaepernick did by not standing during the national anthem, but by sitting, he exercised one of the most important American liberties that the playing of the anthem celebrates.


smallwj@phillynews.com

@SmallTerp