• Sumo

The following is a guest submission to League of Fans from Gerry Chidiac, a high school teacher and freelance sportswriter with over 30 years of experience in Canada, the United States and Africa.

There has been considerable controversy stirred up in the sports world and beyond this past year regarding the actions of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the American National Anthem. Some view him as a villain, and others view him as a hero. What is motivating Kaepernick? What is it about his actions that is so upsetting to so many people? Who is right?

What is interesting in the Kaepernick case is that the national anthem that he refuses to stand for is that of the country that set the standard for the rights of the individual. We often forget that the American Constitution is a powerful historic document like none that the world had seen before 1787. The principles had been debated and philosophised over, but this was the first time that a country had used them as a basis on which to build a nation.

What is beautiful about the courageous actions of Kaepernick and other athletes is that they are using their celebrity status to get people talking. The United States is a great country and its citizens have reason to be proud, but it is imperfect as every state is imperfect. There is racism in America, there is racial profiling and there is police brutality.

I recall being in a similar situation to Kaepernick when I was teaching and coaching at an American high school in the late 1980s. The vast majority of students in my school were visible minorities from less than wealthy families. What I experienced in working in this environment challenged my idealism and world view. I was quite taken aback when I recommended to students and athletes that they see a doctor and was told, “I can’t afford to go to a doctor.” I also witnessed the racism that these young people were subjected to, as well as the impact of racism on American society in general.

I did not have an issue with the American National Anthem at the time, but when the Pledge of Allegiance was said before public gatherings, I found that I could not put my hand over my heart and say, “…with liberty and justice for all.” I stood respectfully with my hands at my side. I don’t know if anyone noticed or if they simply attributed it to the fact that I was a foreigner; but, for me it was indeed an act of conscience.

Had the statement been “… striving for liberty and justice for all”, I would have happily complied. There were and still are many people in the United Sates working to make life better for everyone. A long serving African American staff member, for example, pointed out to me that the students from our school regularly went on to positions of leadership within their communities. Having re-established contact with many of my former students on Facebook, I see that this pattern has continued. Our school clearly made a difference in their lives.

Perhaps what Kaepernick is pointing out is that we need to increase our investment in people, especially young people, regardless of their ethnicity or social status. When we do so, the results are phenomenal. Each person is able to achieve their potential. Crime rates drop, incarceration rates drop, income levels rise and life improves for everyone.

Whether we make this change by partaking in or refusing to partake in nationalistic rituals is up to us. The key is to follow one’s conscience, respecting the conscience of one’s neighbor. We must then work together to ensure that the ideals of the American Constitution, and every other statement of human rights that has followed, are respected.

Gerry Chidiac is a high school teacher and freelance sportswriter. For more of Gerry’s work, go to gerrychidiac.com

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