On Friday, a backup NFL quarterback for a team Las Vegas thinks won't win more than six games this season remained seated during the national anthem of a preseason game. It was by far the biggest sports story of the weekend.
Colin Kaepernick, former NFL star quarterback-turned-mediocre NFL quarterback, made it publicly known last week that he would not stand up during the national anthem as a symbolic protest against injustice towards people of color in America. Now, you might think a one-man preseason protest by a marginal talent on a drowning team would be eclipsed by, say, stories involving (literally) the two most hated presidential candidates in our nation's history or recent news of the Pentagon unable to account for $6.5 TRILLION in taxpayer funds, but you'd be wrong.
The takes came in fast and hot. Kaepernick is an idiot. Kaepernick is taking the easy road. Kaepernick "should have some f*****g respect."
For a country built on a foundation of violent uprising and racial inequality, a country that has seen it all in terms of justice, injustice, tolerance, intolerance, and every step in between, we've somehow grown irrationally reactive.
Take the late Muhammad Ali, for instance. Perhaps the most beloved American athlete of all time, Ali did much more to anger the American public than refuse to stand for the Star Spangled Banner during an exhibition game. Ali is revered as one of the greatest social activists inside the world of sports and out, but he was also a man that called white people "devils" and fought for a black separatist movement.
Bill Russell, now one of the NBA's most recognizable and widely-respected Hall of Famers, once called Boston "a flea market for racism," stated that he played for the Celtics, not Boston, and once said he "disliked most white people." Of course, he was also the victim of numerous racist attacks (including a home invasion where vandals defecated in his beds), and was even referred to as "an arrogant Negro" by the FBI.
But these aren't the stories we choose to remember, therefore making them obsolete. Our aversion to history allows us to forget the inconvenient parts of these men and embrace safer, carefully-curated highlights. Even before his passing in June, Ali was more quotes and memories than flesh and bone. He's an idea, a make-believe figure Americans incorrectly mold into whatever they want. And if Russell didn't already lose his humanity to an American fairy tale, in time he almost certainly will.
Kaepernick didn't ask for all black people to move away from white neighborhoods or tell ESPN that he doesn't want the "devils" in Silicon Valley coming to his games. If anything, he almost perfectly mirrored statements by everyone's favorite historical make-believe figure, Martin Luther King.
As pointed out on Twitter by ESPN's Bomani Jones, Kaepernick's comments about this country not holding up their end of the bargain...
I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That's not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn't holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.
...are very similar to this section from MLK's famed "I Have a Dream" speech:
@bomani_jones This passage (from 53 years ago today) on "insufficient funds." pic.twitter.com/f2OKBH05M7— Ben Krimmel (@BenKrimmel) August 28, 2016
Striking, given the current national conversation is such that an outsider would think Kaepernick is digging up the founding fathers and spitting in their faces instead of making basic statements about equality that were previously stated by our nation's most beloved civil rights leader.
If Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem has shown us anything, it's a reminder that we're now a nation of reactive amnesiacs. Regardless of whether the memory loss-inducing blows were self-inflicted or caused by gaps in education, it's obvious we as a country collectively lack the ability to retain information, historical or recent, thus forcing us into repetitive patterns of trigger-outrage-repeat.
This is a country that has seen the eradication of tens of millions of Native Americans. The enslavement of tens of millions of Africans. Thousands of public lynchings. Over 620,000 dead Civil War soldiers. The imprisonment of 110,000-plus Japanese Americans. And, more recently, a middle class decimated by losing 30 percent of its wealth in the last 40 years, an astonishingly rapid and dangerous reorganization of America we've witnessed first-hand.
We've been through more trying times than these, America. If we are to continue surviving, something as small as a backup quarterback remaining seated for several minutes before a preseason football game to prove a point can't send us over the edge.