Colin Kaepernick And Now Marshawn Lynch. Is Patriotism A Pre-Requisite For Professional Sports?

by Richard Cameron

This summer, as former San Francisco 49er, Colin Kaepernick was looking for a place to land in the NFL and there were a few signs of interest and some tugs on the line (Baltimore Ravens) but as of yet, no solid interest  – a lot of discussion centered around whether the non-signings had more to do with  Kaepernick’s controversial behavior, kneeling during the National Anthem in San Francisco, or with his arguably sub-par performance on the field.

Now, while the pot is still boiling on that debate, along comes the return of NFL pre-season football and another episode rearing its ugly head. The ugly head this time is Marshawn Lynch’s.

Oakland Raider Running Back Marshawn Lynch sits on Gatorade bucket and eats banana during national anthem

Lynch, now wearing an Oakland Raiders‘ jersey, sat on a Gatorade bucket Saturday night and munched on a banana while the anthem was being observed prior to kickoff against the Arizona Cardinals. At first blush, it is a simple matter to equate Kaepernick and Marshall’s behavior. It’s not quite as simple as it looks.

According to Kaepernick himself, the reason he did not stand in observance of the anthem, was his feeling that blacks are targets of excessive force by police and are being treated unequally within the justice system and by participating in the anthem, he would be endorsing the injustices. 

Kaepernick, at the time pointed to the death of Terrence Crutcher, who was shot by Tulsa, Oklahoma PD officers, as an example of the reason behind his individual protest. “I find it very hard that people don’t understand what’s going on. I think the message has been out there loud and clear for quite some time now.”  

Kaepernick responded to the criticism, which was vociferous against his actions, by donating his earnings to charities that address his concerns.  Kaepernick made it clear that his having declined to observe the anthem was not a closed end decision.  “When there’s significant change, and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” 

Addressing the charges that he is un-patriotic, Kaepernick responded,

“I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country.  I have family. I have friends that gone and fought for this country. They fight for freedom. They fight for the people. They fight for liberty and justice for everyone. And that’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up as far as, you know, giving freedom and justice and liberty to everybody.”

Shenandoah University professor and Army vet, Fritz Polite, who teaches on the subject of sports and media, told the Christian Science Monitor, regarding Kaepernick, “He’s actually hit a vein. What Colin Kaepernick elucidates is the flag represents certain unalienable rights and freedoms. ‘I’m exercising this freedom. Now you want to tell me I’m unpatriotic. All I’m doing is all the rights and privileges people fight for.'”

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch projects something quite distinct from Colin Kaepernick.  Lynch embodies a “rebel without a cause” in the worst sense of the expression. Some are reading into Lynch’s behavior, a reaction to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday, but they may be looking for an explanation that just isn’t supported by Lynch or his personality.  Lynch admitted to Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio, that not standing for the Star Spangled Banner, is a long running routine. Del Rio told reporters,

Even the coach, who no doubt wants to button up the issue, has been snookered by Lynch. Lynch is a died in the wool contrarian who flaunts norms and expectations, seemingly for the sole purpose of drawing attention to himself.  Lynch relishes the ability his status as an athlete provides him, to flash a middle finger to the media, the NFL and their expectations, including those of football fans. 

Even more, he projects the attitude of an indifferent slob. The point Lynch appears to be making is that he could give a rat’s ass – plus, “I’m not doing it and you can’t make me.”  The point Del Rio seems to be making implicitly is that trying to make him do it is just not worth the hassle – especially when the attitude problem will be off his hands in a year or two. 

Maybe it is a matter of taste, but there is a fine line between being “colorful” and being a jerk. Which of the two Lynch is, remains the subject of interpretation and debate.

Patriotism Correctly Defined

With Kaepernick, one gets the sense that he simply has a fundamental misunderstanding of what things like the flag and the anthem represent to those of us who salute them – not because we endorse everything the government does;  not because “it’s my country, right or wrong”, but because when we observe them, we are committing ourselves to live up to the best potential our country has. 

It does not mean that you place your seal of approval on slavery or abortion, use of excessive force by law enforcement, racism, the looting of the treasury, endless wars or gang violence.  It means, or should mean that you pledge to be the solution, not the problem; the cure, not the disease. If people don’t get it, we need to educate them, not flog them in the town square.

If NFL owners and directors of player personnel avoid Kaepernick because his football abilities are not up to par and are not a fit for their organizations, that is a fully justifiable decision.  If, on the other hand, it is solely because Colin is “radioactive” in terms of fan perceptions, I’m uncomfortable with that.

Just as not all that glitters is Gold, so not all who proclaim to be “patriots” actually are.  Some of them are just loud mouthed, jingoistic imbeciles. One such that comes readily to mind, is Donald Trump, who said of Kaepernick:

I think it’s personally not a good thing, I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try, it won’t happen.”

The last thing I want to see is people bullied into rituals or coerced into faking “patriot-gasms”.  Part of authentic patriotism is recognizing that citizens have the freedom to dissent, even if we don’t agree with their reasons. 

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