Last night around our dinner table, I asked my three middle school sons what they thought of Colin Kaepernick. Two of them are big football fans, the other one would rather play Minecraft.
I’ll pause a moment before I tell you how they responded.
First, a bit of background on me. I am a white dude. Really white. Think—“Indiana Farmer Tan” white.
I am a Midwesterner. I am an Eagle Scout (once an eagle, always an eagle—kinda like being president of the United States). And I’m a Christian. Actually, I am a minister (although I don’t always admit to that). My business cards say “Rev.” before my name.
My high school was pretty urban and diverse, but my college wasn’t so much, other than some international students.
I live in the moderately wealthy suburbs of a medium sized city. Although my oldest son is friends with every black student at his school—there’s only about 3 of them in his grade.
Colin Kaepernick, as you know, unless you live on a deserted island (in which case, how are you reading my blog?), has been taking a knee during the national anthem this year before he rides the bench the rest of the game.
And a lot of people like me (white, mid/upper class, loyal to the USA, friends in the military, etc.) hate Kaepernick because of his decision.
Let me say that again. A lot of people like me hate Colin Kaepernick because he is taking a knee during the national anthem.
I am pretty convinced that some people in my social media feeds would like to punch him in the face.
Seriously. Not metaphorically. (I admit that I feel that way about someone else who’s always in the news, but that is a different blog.)
So, back to my dinner table. Now, to be fair, we are face painting Colts fans. We bleed blue. Training camp visits, games, special events, making-plans-around-Sunday’s-game fans. So, we kinda already hate every quarterback in the world that doesn’t have the last name Manning, Luck or Unitas. So, give my boys some grace when you hear what they said. Plus, they are in middle school. Which is like being from another planet, I am told.
What does America stand for?
Their assessment of Kaepernick (at first)?
He’s an idiot.
This kind of language is usually reserved for Tom Brady… which I fully endorse and do not feel is hate speech when directed at the Patriots (please laugh, that’s a joke… kind of).
Then the fun began.
“Why don’t you like him?” I asked.
“Because he won’t stand up for the national anthem.” They all look at me like, ‘Duh, Dad, have you been living on a deserted island?’
“Why is that a problem?” I asked.
“Because he is disrespecting America.” One of the younger two says.
Then my oldest shows at least of bit of thought. “A lot of people died so he would be free to sit down.”
“That’ true. And…?” I respond.
“So, he’s free to sit down.” He says, looking at his plate full of pepperoni pizza at our bistro table in our four bedroom 2.5 bathroom two-car-attached-garage house.
“What do you think he is trying to accomplish?” I prod, watching their brains fritz and buffer, like a dial up connection.
“He’s trying to bring attention.” One says.
“To himself,” one says. But another refines that answer, “To an issue outside of football.”
“What issue?” I ask, and pray to God they know, which of course they do, because kids always get it.
“Violence against black people,” he says, without using the word ‘police’.
“And is violence against black people and injustice towards black citizens a real problem in our nation?” I ask, and pray to God they know it is, which of course they do, because kids always know these things.
“Yes,” they say in unison without hesitation.
Short pause in conversation.
Then one says, “But he’s still disrespecting America and all the veterans.”
“What is America? What does America stand for?” I attempt to go even deeper with tweenagers and a teenager.
My eighth grader, with the precision that comes from being a teenager, says, “I think everyone would have to say that America stands for freedom.”
“Do you think Kaepernick is trying to disrespect America—that he wants to disrespect all those veterans?” I ask.
“Probably not,” my middle son says.
“But I still don’t like him,” says my youngest son, who hates every player not wearing a horseshoe on his helmet and most referees in the NFL. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is his favorite player. He also ‘hates’ Cam Newton, but does the Superman celebration (a la the Panthers QB) when given the chance.
“I am not trying to convince you to like him, I am asking you to think.”
Maybe that’s what the racial tension is asking all of us to do.
My wife, who will go to Colts games, but certainly doesn’t follow football closely says, “Hasn’t he been kind of a problem off the field—you know, had some behavior problems?”
“I’m not sure,” I answer honestly.
Colin Kaepernick is black?
And in my head, I unconsciously thought, “Well, he has a lot of tattoos wears a flat bill hat at an odd angle and kisses his biceps when he scores a touchdown, so maybe he is a problem off the field.”
Today I thought about it.
I actually thought.
And I looked into it.
Colin Kaepernick was 4.0 student in high school who graduated with his degree from Nevada. I can’t find that he has ever had a run in with the law. He was fined $10,000 by the NFL once for using inappropriate language on the field. I sure am glad my mom didn’t have a cuss jar that required me to deposit thousands when I used bad language.
Colin has actually had some positive things to say about military and veterans. He says his faith leads him and that he loves Jesus, and isn’t actually kissing his biceps, but his tattoos that refer him back to God. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher out of high school, but declined that offer to go to Nevada to play football, where he shattered tons of records for passing and rushing yards.
And, oh yeah, he’s the blackest dude in his family. His parents and siblings are white. He was adopted.
And his birth mom was white.
Made me think.
Now for a bit of truth serum about my thoughts. When I first heard he was protesting because of violence against black people and the news described him as African-American, my first response was,
“Colin Kaepernick is black?”
I clearly hadn’t thought much about it yet.
But since then, I have been thinking about it.
Have you been thinking about it? I hope so.
And here’s the scary thing about non-violent protest. The goal is to make people think.
(BTW, I discovered later his tattoos are mostly crosses, scripture verses and praying hands and other stuff about Jesus)