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Why Colin Kaepernick's Critics Are Wrong

If you pay attention to sports (or to social media), you've probably heard about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision not to stand when the national anthem is played before football games this year. In a locker-room interview, Kaepernick discussed some of the reasons for his protest.

There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically is police brutality, there’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable.

The cops are getting paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.

Criticism has been swift and harsh. Army veteran Dorian Majied complained that Kaepernick's method of protest showed disrespect and "hurt the country," and suggested Kaepernick didn't really know what oppression is.

ESPN radio host Paul Finebaum leveled similar criticism, declaring, "This country has issues, but this country is not oppressing black people," and adding:

Usually people protest when they’ve been oppressed, when they have a legitimate stake in the action. I don’t know where Colin is coming from.

Former Congressman Allen West indirectly pushed the same buttons.

Mr. Kaepernick, a biracial young man adopted and raised by white parents, claims America is oppressing blacks at a time when we have a black, biracial president who was twice elected. We’ve had two black attorneys general and currently have a black secretary of homeland security, along with a black national security advisor. Here in Dallas our police chief, whom I know, is an outstanding black leader. The officer in Milwaukee who shot the armed assailant after issuing an order to drop his weapon was black. Is Mr. Kaepernick following suit and cherry-picking what he terms "oppression?"

First of all, let me clarify to you sir, you are a multi-millionaire "one-percenter" just because you can throw a ball and kiss your biceps. Men like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Oscar Robertson, Ernie Davis, and Bernard King and Condredge Halloway of my alma mater were athletes who knew of oppression. You sir may certainly have the right to sit upon your "fourth point of contact" when the National Anthem is played but never forget, you live in a nation that has provided you the privilege to have that right.

But Kaepernick insisted in his locker-room interview that his protest is not about his own personal experience, but is on behalf of those who don't have the type of media access he has.

There have been situations where I feel like I’ve been ill-treated, yes. But this stand wasn’t for me. This stand wasn’t because I feel like I’m being put down in any kind of way.

This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and affect change.

So I’m in a position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.

That's where the critics miss the point. It doesn't matter whether Colin Kaepernick has ever personally been a victim of oppression, or whether he has even felt like a victim. He sees, as many of us see, stories of unarmed people of color being killed by police officers, with no consequences for those officers, and he wants to do something about it.

The ability to understand another's condition from their perspective is called empathy, an essential ingredient to a healthy society. It's because of empathy that Colin Kaepernick is taking a stand by sitting.

A lack of empathy, on the other hand, is a precursor to societal breakdown. Kaepernick's critics may believe they're being patriotic, but in reality they are promoting a divisiveness that, if it's not checked, will ruin this nation.

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