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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world, with over 150 camps in 30+ U.S. states and Canada. We discuss problems in youth sports today, including single sport specialization, the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the high drop-out rate in competitive sports, and the growing mental health challenges young athletes are dealing with today.
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Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Episode #23 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Olympian Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Talks Title IX, Youth Sports and the Olympics.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon