Kaepernick sits for anthem, tests our free-speech convictions

Last weekend I learned an awful lot about the concept of "free speech."

On Friday, national media noticed San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had taken a seat rather than standing for the national anthem. When they asked Kaepernick about it, they found out that he had been doing the same thing for the previous two preseason games as well.

For the record, I am a lifelong, die-hard 49er faithful with a Kaepernick jersey hanging in my closet. I was excited when the 49ers drafted him in the second round in 2011 and when he took over for an injured Alex Smith against the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football in 2012.

He went on to lead his team to three straight NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl, only to lose a heartbreaker in the final seconds to the Baltimore Ravens. The next season he made a return to the conference championship game, but lost the game similarly as the winning touchdown was swatted away by the hand of the 49ers' greatest nemesis in recent years – Seattle's Richard Sherman.

While things have been all downhill for the struggling Kaepernick since that fateful evening in January 2014, he made a bold statement in those three seasons.  This season, returning from injury and after having been benched for his poor performance last season, Kaepernick made another bold statement in a much different manner.

When asked, Kaepernick told NFL Media, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." He continued: "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

[Black Lives Matter protest in Anchorage echoes national concerns]


And with that, the internet erupted.

The one thing I noticed most about the commentary on social media is that many people had become fond of saying things such as, "I agree with his right to do this; however …" What followed was a series of consequences I would never have thought anybody would find appropriate for the simple act of sitting down during the national anthem.

People on social media have suggested that he find a new place to live, donate his entire salary (one person suggested it should be his entire net worth, about $20 million) to the cause to show he truly believed in it and some suggested that he should be killed.

All of this because he refused to stand during the national anthem.

The right to free speech, technically, is protection of your ability to express yourself in a multitude of ways from interference by the government. However, the concept of free speech is one that is a cornerstone of our society and should hold a special place in the heart of every self-anointed American patriot.

If you  say that you support the concept of free speech and in the same breath call for the exile of someone exercising that right, then you don't believe in the concept of free speech.

These are fans who regularly cheer for players who have fathered many children with multiple women and regularly fail to provide child support, players who have been accused of rape and murder as well as multiple various gun offenses, and players who engage in acts of domestic violence.

But this is where they draw the line.

Spiderman's Uncle Ben Parker (among others) said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Some believe Kaepernick is finding the great responsibility that comes with the great power of the bully pulpit his fame provides.

The true test of one's support for free speech comes when someone uses that right to express a view one regards as abhorrent. Regardless of how you feel about what Kaepernick has done, it is our responsibility to not only acknowledge his right to do so but to respect that right.

Disagree with him? Absolutely. Express your disgust with what he's done? Sure. However, to bully him, pelt him with personal attacks and demand that exercising his rights should result in being expelled from the nation show that you have a complete lack of respect for the concept of freedom of speech.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

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Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.