xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Edelman: Kaepernick well within his rights to protest

So what's with the Baltimore Ravens and Colin Kaepernick anyway? For most of the last couple of weeks, the Ravens have been huddling over the question of adding the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback to their roster. But the decision won't be entirely based on whether he would help the team. Last summer, Kaepernick made his feelings about racism in America known by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, an action that made him one of the most polarizing figures in the world of sports. Then Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, never one to pass up a chance to pour gasoline on a fire, said, "Maybe he should find a country that works better for him."

And now, the Ravens are considering the public relations issues that hiring him would raise. Team owner Steve Bisciotti said he wasn't sure if he'd help the team win games. And I am not sure the decision will be based on Kaepernick's football playing abilities or lack of same. News that the team was considering making a play for him resulted in fans expressing their opinions. Some threatened to sell off their season tickets. Some questioned his ability on the field. Some questioned his patriotism, while others praised his courage for speaking out, or taking a knee, on an important social issue. Whether or not the Ravens hire him as a backup quarterback, the mere fact that his name has been associated with the team has become a source of controversy.

Advertisement

There's nothing new about sports figures using their celebrity to espouse social causes, but few of them in recent history have been particularly polarizing. We need to look back to the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics to find an athlete's protest so widely publicized and criticized. Back then, two U.S. sprinters, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos stood on the podium to receive their medals. As the national anthem began to play, they both stood, heads bowed, fists raised in black power salutes. Public reaction was swift and almost entirely negative. Kaepernick's silently kneeling while the "Star-Spangled Banner" was played seems mild in comparison to what Smith and Carlos did. Certainly, an NFL preseason game is a more innocuous stage for a protest than the medal platform at the Olympics games. Why, then, has public reaction been so negative?

When Colin Kaepernick didn't stand for the national anthem before a preseason game last summer, perhaps he knew he was lighting a powder keg that would still burn a year later. Perhaps not.

It could be that his act reminds people of another, broader protest: Black Lives Matter. While generally nonviolent, BLM is very much an in-your-face movement. It prominently protested presidential campaigns on both the left and right last year. I suspect that even though Kaepernick's silent protest was completely personal and civil, it evoked fear-filled memories of riots in Ferguson, New York, St. Paul, Charlotte, and Baltimore, places where African-Americans lost their lives after encounters with police.

Advertisement

What gets lost in this controversy is the right each and every one of us has to publicly express his or her opinion. Too often, public discourse on the important issues facing our country have become shouting matches. Political debate has become two sides reciting memorized attacks on the other side, two tape recorders playing their pre-recorded messages, volume turned all the way up. Listening, understanding and searching for common ground have gone the way of the dodo. All of us wind up the poorer for that lack of dialog, never mind civility, among groups with differing opinions.

Kaepernick is an ink-blot test. People see what they already believe. If you think that protests are subversive, you'll see his actions as subversive. If you see police brutality against minorities, you'll see a courageous young man calling attention to racial injustice. And if you live on the sports page, you'll see a football player whose skills may or may not fit your favorite football team — and you probably aren't reading this column anyway.

But however you see his actions, you need to remember and accept that he is within his rights as an American to speak his mind. Those pesky Founding Fathers guaranteed it in 45 words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." And if you have an ounce of patriotism, you need to think about both the protest and the conditions that gave rise to it.



Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement