A year ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit during the national anthem before the start of each NFL game. Kaepernick went unnoticed for the first few games of preseason, but once he started catching flack his motivation was clear. Through much controversy, Kaepernick made it clear that his choice to sit was in protest of police brutality against African Americans.
My question is, was it the demonstration or the explanation that made Kaepernick’s point clear?
Last week, the entirety of the NFL stood in solidarity during the national anthem. That solidarity took several forms. Some players took a knee, some stood and locked arms and some didn’t even appear on the field for the national anthem. Why were they protesting, and why did their demonstrations take so many different forms?
In short, these demonstrations began after President Trump tweeted,
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect…. …our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
NFL players were not the only people wondering the necessity of these randomly timed words, but they collectively decided to take a stand against it. Now, before I can answer whether it is demonstration or explanation that makes an impact, we have to look at the question – what was the NFL standing against last week?
Trump’s accusation that began the reaction suggested people who choose to follow in the footsteps of Kaepernick and sit during the anthem are protesting against the anthem, or the flag, and consequently the country itself. Perhaps those who know the history of this type of demonstration believe NFL players were standing against a history of racial division in America. The simplest explanation is perhaps the players were standing against the words of Trump’s initial tweet.
So, back to the initial question – is it demonstration or explanation that tends to be more effective? What made Colin Kaepernick’s demonstration so poignant was his explanation. He was taking an action to back something he believed in. In the case of what took place with the NFL last week, there seemed to be a plethora of reasons one could participate in these demonstrations, but there was not one clear message.
Is it appropriate to lawfully exercise a constitutional right to call into question a leader who suggests an infringement on that right? Yes. Is it proper for a person of influence to use their platform to suggest a change in something they see as wrong? Yes. Does bringing people together for these purposes bring about more of a chance for change to take place? Yes. But all of that starts with the premise of the demonstration. We may be standing together, but what are we standing for or against?
No matter where we fall on the spectrum of agreement, we know what Colin Kaepernick and those who chose to join him stood for a year ago. Why? Because he told us. I’m not sure the same could be said for what occurred last week. Was it several people taking one stance? Was it an array of reaction coming from multiple frustrations against one person? I simply don’t know.
Actions speak louder when backing up words.