Colin Kaepernick (centre). From cnbc.com.
A long while ago, a fellow blogger posted along the lines of a professional sportsman should not be pulling publicity stunts for political gain. They were talking about Colin Kaepernick, do you remember him? He was an NFL player – at one time he was the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, who went to one knee during the US National Anthem. It made mainstream news bulletins, even here, for a while afterwards – not least, we were all amused because it seemed to annoy Donald Trump!
It’s interesting to me because I broadly disagree, but it took a while to get my thoughts together, and a while more to knock a post into shape. So this one has been sitting in various stages of draft for a long while.
It boils down to two questions:
- Did the guy have a right to hold a view?
- Did he have the right to express that view while doing his job?
The first of those questions is easy. Of course he has a right to hold a view. Just the same as you or me. None of our societies say that because the guy is a sportsman, he doesn’t get to have a voice.
On the second question, I have a bit more sympathy. I can imagine that there are certain jobs where you need to put your personal view to one side. Be professional. Represent your employer’s interests, not your own. But does a footballer have such a job?
I can maybe understand that somebody might think they do, but I myself think not. I was never asked to leave my political views at the door, for one, so why should he? And the idea that the 49ers checked that the guy’s politics were sound before they hired him, a guy who became their starting quarterback…. It is just a hunch but I would wager that Kaepernick got the job because of his sporting prowess, not because of his ability to behave himself.
There are precedents here, too, where sport has been used as a weapon when we don’t agree with someone, at all sorts of levels. On the one hand, we just need to think back to the schoolyard – I’m not playing with Johnny because he’s an asshole. And, it gets bigger. Not playing sport with South Africa during the apartheid era, or the US boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, or the USSR boycotting the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as a tit-for-tat. Furthermore, these boycotts transcended amateur/professional boundaries – I still remember the days when Rugby Union was amateur, and still, nobody would play against the Springboks.
So, there are all sorts of precedents for sportsmen to put politics over sport – we don’t like your behaviour toward such-and-such, so we will not play sport with you.
Maybe on that point we could argue that the sportsmen would have been happy to play, but it was the politicians who spoiled the show? But that is precisely my point – when sport and politics go head to head, politics wins out.
As regards the form of the protest, Kaepernick chose a form that many people hold dear. Maybe Kaepernick held it dear, too,and maybe that is just a measure of his dissatisfaction? Even if Kaepernick never gave a stuff about the flag, maybe he deliberately chose it because he know that other people did hold it dear? Does that not also give an indication of the level of Kaepernick’s dissatisfaction?
I think that a country can behave rightly or wrongly, just as an individual can behave rightly or wrongly. So, when people think it is behaving wrongly, what do they do? Do they call it out or let it slide? Does a country have our unequivocal support, no matter what it does?
There is a goal here of making a better society, and for me it is a no-brainer to call out the bad things, so we can try to improve them. Right and wrong is what matters here, not where we happened to be born.
I’d even take that a step further. A country is largely represented by its government. The way a country behaves towards its people, towards other countries, these things are basically the policies of its government. The government is political, and so we should we stop and ask ourselves whether the protest isn’t political too.
On the subject of the protest itself, I am happy to take Kaepernick’s view on board, and decide for myself (a) whether I care, and (b) what view I take. If the athlete withes maybe to raise my awareness of the issue, no problem. It’s only really the same as me using this blog to make people aware of my pet issues.
The last thing that I wanted to talk about was the #MeToo effect. My own experience after my stroke was to think along the lines that I was the only person on earth who could be going through what I was going through. I cringe at that now, because I know it was rubbish. In fact once I was well enough, I actively started looking for peers who might help me learn to live with myself. Knowing that there are other people who have been through, who are going through, what we’re going through, is important. Just look how #MeToo has raised the profile of sexual harassment.
So not only do I take my hat off to Kaepernick, but I salute him for being the first. If other sportsmen agreed with him, and subsequently followed his example, then maybe he highlighted a real problem after all?