The Ravens event was this year’s Military Appreciation Day and included reserved seating and a Ravens-themed gift for active service members. Both events presented an opportunity to get a sense of how the team’s recent dalliance with controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick is viewed in an area that is home to the historic United States Naval Academy.
Kaepernick, of course, created a national furor when he chose last season to sit or kneel during the national anthem before San Francisco 49ers games in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. Ten days ago, the Ravens brought the issue home to the birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner” when coach John Harbaugh revealed the team was considering Kaepernick as a possible replacement if Joe Flacco’s back injury proved serious.
The debate continues and the issue remains open because the Ravens still are not sure when Flacco will be ready to play. Though Kaepernick’s protest was not explicitly directed at the armed forces, it was widely interpreted that way.
“To me, it was disrespectful,” said disabled Marine Corps veteran Kevin Brazen of Abbottstown, Pa. “Do I support the Ravens? Yes, but that’s our national anthem. That’s our flag and it represents our country.”
That opinion was shared by countless fans on Twitter and other social media outlets. The Ravens also received a lot of negative feedback from season-ticket holders, many of whom threatened to sell their permanent seat licenses and cancel their ticket plans.
Though many veterans acknowledge that Kaepernick had a right to put his athletic celebrity behind a cause, some of them took issue with the propriety of hijacking the NFL’s international stage to make a personal political statement.
“I just feel that if you want to make a statement, that’s not the kind of statement that you want to do on the field,” said Army veteran Chris Valdez of Baltimore. “I mean, you can go out in public and do it in public, but you don’t bring that to the field, to the team, to the ownership and to your teammates. I just feel like it brings a little tension, but if the Ravens sign him, we’ll see what happens.”
Chances are, all this talk will end up amounting to nothing, since the chances of Kaepernick ending up in Baltimore appear to be diminishing.
Jack Basford, a 20-year Navy veteran from Baltimore, was one of several current and former military personnel who echoed the mixed feelings Kaepernick evoked when he exercised his right as an American to speak in opposition to something that he finds unacceptable.
“People join the military to defend the United States and give people their rights, so that’s his right to protest,” Basford said. “I will say that it was peaceful. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with him, but that’s his right.”
Buzz Thomas, a former Marine from Bel Air, said he’s ready to give Kaepernick another chance if the quarterback is ready to put the Ravens first.
“The young man, I think he made a mistake with what he did and I think he has paid a price for it,’’ Thomas said. “As long as he’s beholden to everyone, I think we should take him on. As far as the original protest, I’m not in favor of it, but I wouldn’t be the one to tell him he can’t do it because that’s what we all fight for, so people like him can do that sort of thing.”
Thomas said he didn’t feel Kaepernick intended to disrespect the military, and Air Force veteran George Butler of Jessup agreed.
“I have no problem with it,” Butler said as he waited in line to enter the stadium. “I don’t see him doing anything negative in reference to the military’s assignment or missions. So, I wouldn’t have any problem with him playing for the Ravens.
“I find it kind of ridiculous. All he was doing was [being part of] a movement that is well known as far as the black cause goes. I don’t know why the organization thinks that’s a big negative factor.”
Earlier in the day, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo gave Kaepernick credit for taking a stand and taking the heat that came with it, but acknowledged that he “offended a lot of people and there were a lot of hurt feelings.”
Senior Midshipmen linebacker Micah Thomas had no trouble putting the whole thing into a balanced perspective.
“I came to Navy to help protect this country,” Thomas said. “Whether I agree with what somebody is saying or not, the important thing is that we came here [to the Naval Academy] to fight for the rights that allow us all to speak up if we feel strongly about something.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.