By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN
The large crowd rose almost as one as the National Anthem was sung – all, that is, except one man, who remained seated. No, it was not Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
Rather, it was just an ordinary person, who later explained that he just did not feel like standing — and the incident happened more than a quarter-century ago, in Guyana, the small former British colony in South America.
But, because Third World governments generally do not brook such disrespect for the symbols of nationhood, something had to be done to the sitter. The details are mostly lost in the haze of time past but the authorities charged the man. His offense: disturbing the peace. The rationale: By his remaining seated, other people might be provoked to attack him, which would be disturbing the peace.
When Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem before the start of the 49ers-Green Bay Packers preseason game last month, it was not on a whim but to make a statement. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media, according to ESPN. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Unlike what happened in Guyana, the last thing that probably crossed anyone’s mind was that Kaepernick was guilty of incitement to riot. Nor was he charged with any offense. But a vast number of people, judging from social media, think he is guilty of worse: disloyalty, if not outright treason.
The fact that Kaepernick is of mixed race and was raised by a white couple seems to have inflamed passions further. How dare a black person who has been able to rise to the top of his career disrespect the symbols of the country that made it possible?
Or, as Donald Trump, the Republican pres- idential candidate put it, “I think it’s a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try – it won’t happen.”
Kaepernick does have supporters but most of them, while praising his courage in the face of what would be a very unpopular act, say he should have used a different approach to draw attention to the issue he has highlighted: police killing blacks mostly with impunity.
“There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he said in the NFL Media interview.
But some supporters are fully behind him fully. For his next act of defiance, Kaepernick knelt on one knee, instead of sitting, when the Star Spangled Banner was played before the start of a game a few days later against the San Diego Chargers. This time a teammate, Eric Reed, a safety, knelt with him.
Megan Rapinoe, a white soccer player, knelt as the anthem played for the start of a match on Sunday, saying it was a “little nod to Kaepernick.”
Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the former basketball superstar, said Kaepernick’s action was “highly patriotic.”
Of course, Kaepernick was not the first athlete to use his stature as a super-athlete to call attention to racism and the condition of blacks in America.
John Carlos and Tommy Smith stunned the Olympic world when they raised clenched fists in a Black Power salute during the 200 meters medal presentation at the 1968 Games in Mexico City while the anthem was being played.
Should athletes involve themselves in non- athletic matters, such as politics and social concerns? And, should the Stars and Stripes and the anthem be off-limits for such protests?
Athletes with social grievances have been playing it safe by confining their protests to non-controversial platforms, such as the recent call at the ESPYs by basketball stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony for an end to gun violence.
But, in the inflamed national politics of today and the threat of terrorism a fact of daily life, not many Americans are prepared to tolerate gestures that they believe do not comport with the national good. In a different time but similarly divisive circumstances, Muhammad Ali paid a heavy price for refusing to be inducted into the military during the Vietnam war because of his Muslim beliefs.
The excoriation of Colin Kaepernick has only just begun. There is still a heavy price for him to pay for bravery in the face of demagoguery.