The Power and the Threat of Kneeling: Colin Kaepernick

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Colin Kaepernick, if you want to do so.


Maybe it's his hair. It refuses to conform, be tamed.

Maybe it's his background: half-black, half-white. Born to a poor mother and absent father. Placed for adoption in a white family.

Maybe it's his accolades. A 4.0 GPA in high school. All-State selection in football, basketball and baseball. Turned down scholarship offers - and being an MLB draft pick - all because he'd rather play football.

Maybe it's his build. He's skinnier than most football players.

Maybe it's his tattoos.

Maybe it's his fashion: a t-shirt of Malcolm X and Fidel Castro, socks depicting police officers as pigs.



Kaepernick doesn't care if you like him.

He wants you to notice him.



***

And maybe the narrative works: the brash young athlete who doesn't understand politics trying to make a political stand. The young man from a poor family who stupidly insulted the military and the country. A person without respect, without honor, without a value of tradition.



Plenty of Americans read this narrative, believe this narrative -- maybe even liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But the narrative takes a turn. The long-recited narrative, the way to dismiss women, poor people, and people of color from having a voice in politics: too stupid to get it ... too disrespectful ... don't pay any attention ... they're just crazy ...

Take a closer look at Colin Kaepernick. Doesn't matter if you like him. What's he saying to you?



***

Football season starts Thursday night in New England, but Kaepernick isn't even on the bench. No team has signed him.

Why?

His stats don't make it clear. Kaepernick threw for more than 2,000 yards in just 12 games last season, but here's a list of 20 free agent quarterbacks signed ahead of him.

This isn't about stats.

This is about Colin Kaepernick refusing to play his role. Stay in his lane.

This is about America waking up to its racist roots: even in a league that offers a rare chance for African American men to be millionaires.

It's not about what Kaepernick said or didn't say. It's about him making a powerful statement that doesn't require words: a statement rooted in an African-American Christian tradition built on non-violent resistance.



***

The vitriol directed toward Kaepernick, even by NFL executives, comes as much from fear as it does from genuine dislike. If Kaepernick really was a harmless, crazy, dumb gadfly -- the execs wouldn't care. They'd sign him up, as they've signed up criminals and abusers and even murderers in the NFL's past.



No, this is different. This is about a deep fear of what Kaepernick has tapped into: a shaking of America's Christian roots and a question about who owns the narrative of Jesus: white Evangelical Christian culture or African American liberation movements?

***

You watch it on TV and you have to wonder what the fuss is all about. The stadium is standing and Kaepernick is kneeling. Silently. Arms folded. Elbow on his knee staring straight ahead.




You're thinking: Dammit.

I can't even watch football on Sunday anymore and drink a beer without being reminded that something is wrong in America.



You want Kaepernick to go away, to stand up and salute the flag and shut up because we can tolerate abuse of other human beings but we cannot tolerate being disrupted when we want to pretend that everything is OK.



Of course to be black in America is to know that everything is not OK. Not when black Americans are arrested, incarcerated and killed at much higher rates than white Americans. When a traffic stop can be life-threatening. When even millions of dollars won't change the color of your skin. When people celebrate monuments to an army put together to keep you enslaved.



So Kaepernick is merely making clear what all of us knew, deep down.

His gesture is non-threatening. Meek. Which is perhaps what makes it so scary.



When you watch the actual thing - the actual National Anthem protest - you have to wonder: what about this is so scary that really not a single NFL team would draft this guy?

What are we so afraid of?

A black man in a football jersey takes a knee. Others join him. They don't want you to like them. They want you to notice them.



***

One of the most interesting things about Colin Kaepernick is his faith. Yep. Kaepernick is a Christian. He was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran, and attended a Baptist church during his college years.

He sounds virtually Tebow-esque when he talks about his faith in God, saying: "I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I'm at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field," from an interview with the Reno, Nev., Sparks Tribune.

Kaepernick has a Bible scroll with Psalm 18:39 tattooed on his right arm; underneath is written "To God be the Glory."

So Kaepernick wants to glorify God with what he does on the field. Is it such a stretch to imagine that it is Kaepernick's faith, rather than a lack thereof, that is inspiring him to kneel during the National Anthem?

Is it possible that rather than disrespect, it is instead a deep respect for the principles of America and the God who granted this nation its freedom, that causes Kaepernick to kneel?

Is it possible we don't want to see his Christian faith because Kaepernick doesn't look like the white, all-American, handsome Texas quarterback that white America believes is all that's great about football and America?



Is it possible you don't like him because he makes you wonder about your own faith, your own church, your own God? Does God not judge America for its original sin of racism? Does God question the deaths of so many young black men? Does God not believe that Black Lives Matter?

Have we hidden in our segregated churches so that the God Kaepernick seeks to glorify won't see our sins?

***

I keep coming back to the kneeling.

The kneeling. The kneeling. The kneeling.


I understand that Kaepernick first chose to sit for the Anthem, then changed his mind to kneel to show greater respect for the American military, after a conversation with a veteran.

Kneeling is powerful.

I believe this choice to kneel also represents a link to Kaepernick's Christian faith.

To kneel is to show respect. To make a statement. To humble oneself, but also to stand out from the wider world.

Many churches, especially Catholic churches, have kneelers.

My old Lutheran congregation had a semicircular altar. To receive communion: young and old - you had to kneel.

It's hard to be arrogant, or stupid, or prideful, or short-sighted - or any of the things Colin Kaepernick is alternately accused of being - when you are kneeling.

Kneeling points the spotlight away from yourself and on to someone else. It is, as it has been in the church for centuries, a holy act.




***

Colin Kaepernick went unsigned this year. He won't be able to kneel during the anthem. But I believe others will kneel with him and for him. They will kneel not for themselves, because this isn't about them just as much as it isn't about Kaepernick, and whether you like him or not.

They will kneel to honor a country that must be respected and a standard set out from its founding that must not be ignored: that all are created equal.

They will kneel, I believe, to remind us of who and whose we ultimately are.


Comments

  1. It is a business and he is a huge business risk.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably true. But the NFL also likes to see itself as sort of a national standard bearer. How they handle this matters for American culture. Sports is a business, but also more than a business -- as you know being an athlete and father of athletes!

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  2. The fact is, is that the narrative is largely false. The fact that 14% of our population is committing 50% of the homicides. It would stand to reason that the same population would draw the attention of law enforcement at an equally inflated rate. While a few innocent people have suffered the consequences of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, far more have "suffered" at the hands of law enforcement, because they have broken the law and subsequently resisted the enforcers that have been given the lose, lose job of protecting the public.

    To ignore the fact that a segment is breaking laws at a far greater rate than the rest of the country would be disigenuous. We have no problem acknowledging that African Americans make up 5 times greater representation in the NFL & NBA than their national representation, but we seem to want to deny or ignore the fact that the same segment of society is pushing out illigitimate children at the greatest rate in the country, and perhaps rhe world. Those same children are tresponsible for committing nearly the same percentage of crimes in this country.

    You also left out the fact that he is also unequally yolked in a relationship with a woman way outside of his stated faith.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The fact that 14% of our population is committing 50% of the homicides. " This statement is false. The correct statement would be closer to "14% of our population is accused and incarcerated for 50% of the homicides" This distinction, and the fact that so many people who look like me, is exactly why I, as a white guy, fully support Kapernick's position on the subject.

      Delete
    2. Because, the truth is that every man who's black should rightly be treated like a murderer until proven otherwise and black women are essentially just whores who are populating the world with future criminals.

      Wow. Just, wow.

      Delete
  3. You're right about it being religious.

    When accounting for crime rates, the difference between white and black arrest and death by cop rates virtually disappear.

    But that doesn't matter to a left wing pseudo religion that had replaced the wandering Jew with the stifling, metaphysical notion of white privilege. It doesn't matter to a left wing pseudo religion that labels anyone that questions BLMs assertions a racist in the closet at best. It doesn't matter to a left wing pseudo religion that hunts for heretics and apostates, of course this leftist religion calls them "racists" and "bigots," words as powerful to 21st century leftist members of the SJW cult as the former adjectives were to 17th century Inquisitors full of righteous indignation over non-believers and backsliders who "just don't get it."

    That's your side. And Trump his own pseudo religion as well.

    What do they tell us? They tell us we are lost, we are not a country and that maybe these centrifugal forces are just parts of an irrepressible conflict taking us to an irrevocable crossroads. Maybe you can't help yourself. And maybe Trumps people can't help themselves. But you are working together to bury this country because your pseudo religions are too important to you.

    ReplyDelete

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