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By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
August 29, 2016

Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not stand up for the playing of the national anthem is more courageous and patriotic than anything 99% of his critics have ever done.

Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, chose not to stand during the playing of the national anthem before a preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers Friday. It was his way of protesting what he sees as unjust treatment of African Americans and other minorities in this country.

“There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust,” said Kaepernick.

“People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for, freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

Following a string of cases that he considers examples of police brutality, Kaepernick feels he can’t consciously stand up in support of a country that “oppresses black people and people of color.”

As one would expect after a controversial stand like this, news outlets and the social media universe lit up with protests of Kaepernick’s action.

For example, Detroit Tigers’ catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had this to say about Kaepernick’s stance: “He needs to go back to the history books and realize what the flag represents and what a lot of people have sacrificed for it.”

Well, Mr. Saltalamacchia, I think it’s you that needs to go back to the history books to learn what the flag represents.

The First Amendment, above all, is what separates us from most countries on this planet. And among other freedoms, it guarantees all Americans the freedom of expression. Thousands of brave Americans have died to protect that right. Being American means having the right to state your opinion, no matter how unpopular it might be.

The spirit behind the freedom of expression – as granted in the First Amendment — was beautifully captured by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (in a quote often erroneously attributed to Voltaire): “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Now that is America at its best.

Whether you agree with Kaepernick or not isn’t the issue here. The issue is whether or not Kaepernick has the right to say what he believes. And he clearly does.

In fact, unlike the vast majority of Americans, Kaepernick has figuratively gotten off his living room sofa and decided to take part in the great American experiment by attempting to improve our country through participation in the marketplace of ideas.

In doing so, he’s aware he’s risking the loss of significant endorsement income, and possibly even his job, in order to state his beliefs about the current state of America and how he thinks it can be improved. He also knows he will now be the target of immense criticism.

“I have to stand up for people that are oppressed,” said Kaepernick. “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

A lot of self-proclaimed American patriots don’t like what Kaepernick’s doing. Their idea of patriotism is a country in which everybody falls in line with established norms and acts in ways they personally deem appropriate. They believe we should all just go with the flow and not rock the boat, rather than thinking and reasoning for ourselves.

That’s not what being an active and involved citizen is all about. It’s not what freedom of expression or the First Amendment is about.

Kaepernick is simply calling for the United States to live up to its ideals of freedom and justice for all. In doing so, it’s not his intent to disrespect military veterans, or those currently serving in our armed forces today, as some have suggested. In fact, his intent is just the opposite. He wants our country to live up to the core principles that our military men and women have fought for through the years, and are fighting for today.

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” said Kaepernick.

“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. That’s something that’s not happening.”

If you don’t like Kaepernick’s stance, or choice of tactics, fine. Personally, I don’t completely buy into his arguments or methods. But, like it or not, the fact is Kaepernick is taking patriotic action in a way that the vast majority of Americans are too cowardly to attempt. They’d rather sit on the sidelines than step out and compete in the American marketplace of ideas.

I’ve never been a big fan of Colin Kaepernick, on or off the field. But I’m now a huge fan of his patriotism.

Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.

Follow Ken Reed on Twitter.

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