Kris Shannon: Kaepernick's stand rare among today's stars

By Kris Shannon

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem. Photo / AP
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem. Photo / AP

There's only one thing red-blooded Americans love more than paying patriotic deference to the military and the flag: howling in outrage at anyone subverting such tub-thumping.

That much was confirmed this week when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had the temerity to refuse to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, protesting the continued oppression of African Americans in the United States.

But, amid the predictably sanctimonious fall-out, there was one aspect of Kaepernick's demonstration more interesting than whether it was disrespectful (it wasn't) or his message was valid (it was). What I found fascinating was the idea of an athlete taking such a gallant stand.

Kaepernick knew his actions would be incredibly unpopular among colleagues, coaches and much of the country. He knew that he would cause outrage, that his biracial heritage would be called into question, that critics would irrelevantly raise his handsome salary and, to paraphrase idiot-in-chief Donald Trump, that he would be told to find another country if he hates America.

But he remained unbowed and chose to make known his dissent, because the cause was too important to ignore and, in his own words, because it was "selfish to look the other way".

How many athletes have recently been so selfless? The sporting world was earlier this year falling over itself, upon his death, to praise Muhammad Ali for politicising his career, but who has put into action the fallen champ's values?

It's sadly rare, especially among athletes of Kaepernick's calibre. In an age of fierce scrutiny, an age of managed and massaged public statements from sportspeople, few truly speak their mind on any issue, let alone one of a social tenor.

Consider the following quote from the quarterback: "You can become a cop in six months and don't have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist [beauty therapist]. That's insane. Someone that's holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us."

Do they sound like words screened by a legion of public relations staff? Does anyone think his employers, the 49ers, were thrilled to hear such a sentiment spoken by one of their stars?

The NFL operates within a no-distraction environment. For many teams, the fallout from a headline-making incident is worse than the initial transgression. Kaepernick knows his actions were unwanted among his team, considering the regular season kicks off in a fortnight, but he felt it a travesty to stay silent on a subject so close to his heart.

In that feeling, he is unfortunately alone. Far too often athletes' utterances are so thoroughly sanitised they emerge bland and devoid of meaning. Just listen to most All Blacks when they find themselves amid a crowd of microphones.

And the uproarious reaction to Kaepernick's protest explains why. For many sportspeople, it's simply not worth scrutiny to say what they really think. It's not worth the media attention, the bitter statements from police chiefs, the abuse from presidential candidates.

There have been some phenomenal sporting feats in the first two-thirds of 2016. From LeBron James almost single-handedly conquering one of the greatest basketball teams of all time to Katie Ledecky proving she should be swimming against opponents possessing fins.

But Colin Kaepernick is my Sportsperson of the Year. What he's doing is far more courageous than throwing himself through a crowd of bodies to pull down a rebound, far more resolute than remaining relentless on every stroke with no competitor in sight.

This isn't about winning a silly little contest; this is about taking a stand and trying to make a difference. If only there were more like him.

- NZ Herald

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