Colin Kaepernick’s form of protest was not loud. He did not shout, he did not draw attention, there were no signs or marches. The former San Francisco 49er sat in silence. What began as a quiet demonstration by Kaepernick has spread to other National Football League teams and across a range of sports, both professional and collegiate, in the United States.
Kaepernick said he “could not stand and salute a flag that represented a country where inequality and police brutality existed.”
The response to these athletes who kneel during the national anthem is incredibly polarized. People, as they often do, took to social media to both condemn and support the participants. Many called for a boycott of the NFL and pointed to the disrespect they feel these protests create towards veterans and the flag. Many others rallied behind this show of free speech and the call for an end to police brutality. Looking beyond the politics, anger and social media arguments, when Kaepernick took a seat during the national anthem over a year ago he unintentionally took aim at three things many Americans have come to associate with their identity—football, patriotism and veterans.
Senator John McCain announced in a Senate report that between 2012 and 2016, the Pentagon had spent upwards of $6.8 million for professional sports to honor troops at sporting events.
The merging of football and patriotism has been taking place for years and can be seen in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Massive flags are spread out before games and many reunions between veterans and their families play out in front of a stadium full of fans and thousands of viewers. These reunions and demonstrations are meant to honor those who have sacrificed for their country, but what happens when the cameras disappear and the cheering fans fade away? Unfortunately, the United States’ track record for taking care of its veterans is appalling.
According to the U.S. Census, there are 18.8 million veterans in the United States. More than nine million veterans seek assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs each year, and according to an article recently published by the Associated Press, even with emergency funding, the private-sector Veterans Choice health care program may run out of money as soon as December.
To his credit, President Donald Trump has made moves to improve an incredibly mismanaged and broken VA. He recently signed into law the Forever GI Bill, which extends GI Bill benefits to more veterans and allows them to use it for a longer amount of time. He signed another law that makes it faster and easier for vets to appeal their VA decision about disability ratings. These are steps in the right direction, but veterans still need help in the form of government funding and competent healthcare. They do not need help in the form of angry hoards raging against a man who silently protested the unjust killings of unarmed black men.