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Colin Kaepernick: Hero



Colin Kaepernick is a hero to many of us. He was a sensation in the Bay Area when he became the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback, in 2012, after Alex Smith got a concussion. Part of the reason for his popularity, in addition to his obvious football skills, was his physical appearance: heavily tattooed, with a superb, 6’4” body he enjoyed showing off in all its muscled, masculine glory.

So in 2016, when he began to kneel at games during the national anthem, it wasn’t really surprising. Colin was always unconventional. The fact that he was of mixed racial heritage lent a certain legitimacy to his actions. Of course, by 2016 a new voice had been added to America’s political discourse: Donald Trump’s. Trump immediately recognized that his base—the white, rural, under-educated religious extremists who form the Republican Party’s most loyal core—was agitated about Kaepernick; their phony patriotism was offended.

What sort of patriotism was it? The yahoo type: I call it “phony” because it wasn’t really based on love of country, but on rightwing racism and a grudging resentment of “the other”–from Blacks to Latinos to gays and Muslims. If Tom Brady had taken a knee, I suspect the right’s reaction would have been much more muted. But Kaepernick’s dark skin was the last straw for the white nationalists (as was Barack Obama’s). Breitbart went berserk, and Trump—always sensing an opportunity to boost his brand—jumped onboard. He became the leading Kaepernick hater, while also insulting every Black NFL player and threatening owners with ill-defined vengeance.

Now, with the Nike deal, Colin is back in the spotlight. Once again, the white supremacists at Breitbart and elsewhere are in high dudgeon, threatening boycotts and causing Nike’s stock to plunge (although it’s only fair to point out that the dropoff in price is merely relative: after the selloff on Tuesday, the stock was simply back to where it was on August 17, less than one month ago).

Objectively, this matter of kneeling is a perfect example of a manufactured issue. It’s a hot-button that some people, like Trump, know how to push in angry, irrational simpletons. The overt appeal to latent racism is clear; what doesn’t get discussed enough is the nature of this “patriotism” that they supposedly feel. What, exactly, is it? Definitionally, it’s love of our country, America, but—again objectively—Colin Kaepernick and his colleagues can legitimately argue that they, too, love their country, and who’s able to say they don’t? Colin expresses his love for America, and his frustrations and hopes, by taking a knee. Why is that wrong? What’s the big deal of the symbolism of standing during the anthem? The right never gets upset by the symbolism of a Christian baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay American couple. I’ve been to plenty of baseball games and not everyone stands during the anthem. Not everyone takes off their caps, as you’re supposed to. I never saw anyone get upset about that.

But Colin! Ahh, there’s the perfect scapegoat for rightwing racists. Since the right doesn’t have the slightest idea who he really is or what he actually thinks, he’s a cipher upon which they can project all of their hatred and resentment. Just as the Nazis projected their hatred and violence upon the Jews, so too does the American right project its violence upon Colin Kaepernick. The fact that he’s such a perfect physical specimen, while so many of them are obese and drug-addled, adds irony to the situation.

I thank Nike deeply for what they’ve done. They didn’t have to do it. You can be sure that Phil Knight’s advisors told him not to. But he chose to make a statement, a clear, unambiguous statement that some things are more important than profits. Will this help or hurt Nike in the long run? I suspect it will help them. Whatever “boycott” the right organizes will run out of steam within days, or weeks at most. These things always do. Does anyone remember the Caterpillar boycott of the early 2000s? Some boycott. It quickly fizzled, and Caterpillar’s stock went on a tear: by this year, it was at the highest level in the company’s history.

So let Breitbart and Hannity fulminate all they want. Events are moving so quickly that this Kaepernick-Nike ridiculousness will be forgotten by Halloween. And when the damning Mueller Report comes out and the whole world knows the shocking extent of Trump’s crimes, the right is going to have a lot more to worry about than Colin Kaepernick kneeling!

P.S. To the unnamed White House official who wrote the “Resistance” piece in the New York Times, thank you! You have performed a great service to your country.

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