First, I want to apologize for my recent absence from the world of cinema. I have seen several films since the last time I have posted, but have simply failed to find compelling things to write about them. Secondly, I want to point out that the last time I made a post like this, it also ended an extended period of silence on my end; so, in a way, I’m still right on track!
Anyway, let’s get right to it. It’s that time again… that time when I would like you to put on your serious face and listen to me drone on about something that isn’t movie-related, which I know isn’t what you come here for, but I am compelled to write regardless.
Being a (hopeful) writer puts me in an interesting and privileged position when it comes to the way in which I am able to use my voice to convey ideas. I mean, think about it, I sit here and type stuff out while the only thing you can do is read what I’ve written. It’s like I’ve successfully conned you into entering this relationship where I am the only one allowed to talk and you are forced to a listen-only role. Sure, you can leave an angry comment or two, but those comments do nothing to change what letters I have already put onto imaginary paper. Writers literally build their careers out of their voices, because they have to be heard in order to be successful. In a way, we understand the importance of voice better than a lot of people, because it is the sole thing that makes us unique in a world where millions of voices are trying their hardest to also be heard.
Here’s the big topic of this post: I strongly believe that we are coming to a dangerous point in our country’s history where loud voices are the only ones heard, and many of them actively encourage the silencing of competing/opposing voices. This is not a one-sided issue; it is absolutely true on both sides of the American political fence. If there’s one Constitutional Amendment that is more important than all the rest of them, it is without a doubt in my mind our Freedom of Speech. In our current social/political climate, I fear that our right to this freedom is being severely infringed upon.
Hold up! Don’t leave yet! Before you start jumping to conclusions, let me say that I am not here to talk about students protesting guest speakers, or activists disrupting events. These are all things we’ve seen and heard about time and time again; I have nothing to new to offer to this conversation.
Now, if you made it this far, I want to pause for a second to point something out: I am a wannabe movie-critic. You probably know this already. I am not a politician or political annalist, nor am I a lawyer who specializes in Constitutional Law. Yet, here I am, actively engaged in political discussion. I feel comfortable doing this because I have a number of passions, one of which is politics. The reason I strive to be a film critic is simply because film is the passion that I have ranked above all my others. Believe it or not, I’m more of a normal(ish) human being than I make myself out to be. Very few people exist that are not passionate about several things in their lives.
I’m curious; why are some people in this country allowed to talk about multiple passions while others are not? Why are some voices limited while others are allowed to speak freely? If you believe some voices should be limited, do you put similar constraints on yourself? I want to throw this hypothetical at you: say you’re an auto-mechanic, the best in the world, in fact. You know everything there is to know about every make and model ever created. You know how to fix any auto-related problem, be it mechanical or driver-error. You’ve spent the vast majority of your life working to be the best at this one thing. Now, say you’ve got a good family and great friends too. When you eat dinner with your family, or when you go out with friends, are you going to limit yourself to only participating in conversations where cars are the primary topic? Of course not; you’re most likely going to participate in some form or fashion regardless of the topic at hand.
With that in mind, should we still feel comfortable with ourselves when we tell athletes and other celebrities to “stick to _________”? If your answer is still yes, then I want you to seriously ask yourself what makes you qualified to speak on the topic and limit someone else’s voice. Chances are, you’re actually no more “qualified” to speak than the person you are criticizing. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the real reason you said it in the first place is because they disagree with you. But you want to know something? The fact that you disagree with someone simply makes you human; it’s okay to disagree. What’s not okay is when, instead of simply listening to those who disagree with us, we attempt to silence them. When we try to silence people, we are actively infringing on their first amendment rights.
Another thing I want to talk about is the National Anthem. Let’s be honest with ourselves, how much do we really care about it? I’m seriously asking because I don’t want to project my sentiments onto others. I remember when I went to public school, each day started with students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. First of all, is this not a really weird thing to do? Secondly, I know that as I got older, the less and less I cared about reciting it. I’m pretty sure that, by the start of fifth-grade, I was sitting in my desk and flicking boogers under my chair while that one kid who was doing the morning announcements was the only student actually reciting it. Similarly, why do we insist on performing the National Anthem at the start of every athletic event? Are we honoring America by watching other people play sports? No!
I want to throw another hypothetical out there for you: you work a steady 9-5 office job that you enjoy. Let’s say that every official work day started with the National Anthem being played over intercoms throughout the office building. Now, are you really going to devote that time every morning for the rest of your career to making sure you’re standing with your right hand over your heart and at least mouthing the lyrics? Really though??? Now, let’s say you get desensitized to hearing it every morning and instead elect to get your work started while the anthem plays in the background. One day, someone from corporate comes in and is appalled that the vast majority of your office doesn’t sing the Anthem every morning and is suddenly firing people left and right…
I just want you to seriously think about whether or not you believe the National Anthem is important enough that someone could potentially lose their job over it. Maybe you do care about it that much, and that’s fine, but I’d like you to think about why. Is this song something that should be idolized? If so, are there things that other people idolize that you might treat with disrespect in a similar fashion (i.e. the Quran, LGBTQ flags, etc)? The Anthem exists to give Americans the opportunity to stop and be thankful that they live in America, but it is slowly be warped into a ritualistic practice that seeks to oust “non-patriots.” We’re going down a path where the anthem becomes an enforcer that shouts, “be proud of your country or suffer the consequences!” Are we, as citizens of a great nation that prides itself on freedom, not supposed to detest this forced patriotism like the type we see in North Korea? If you think this comparison is too far-fetched, please, at least understand my concern. We’ve come to a point where real American citizens’ livelihoods are being threatened because they simply want to point out a few things wrong with our nation.
…Okay, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, it’s time to get to the real meat of this post. I think America has just now come to the realization in recent months that the world of sports is rife with racial and political tension. As a former football player, and someone who claims to be the smartest person on earth, all I have to say is it’s about damn time! A vast majority of football fans are probably going to deny the fact that the NCAA might be one of the most racist institutions in America, but it’s the truth. If you haven’t seen the South Park episode titled “Crack Baby Athletic Association” (Season 15, Episode 5), then I highly recommend it; it is one of the best satirical critiques of sports that I have ever seen. To make a long story short, the NCAA basically asks athletes to put their physical bodies at risk for the benefit of fans and their own profit. In return, the athletes receive room and board and the chance at making it big in the pros after graduation. Then these athletes are put on display at various drafts and its a very good time for all the rich white guys in the fancy suites. If that’s not the closest thing to slavery that legally exists in America at the moment, then I don’t know what is. I don’t want you to continue on with a bad taste in your mouth, so I won’t deny all the good that the NCAA does for a lot of students, but its the way that these athletes are looked at (specifically the non-white ones) by fans that I’d like to highlight. Who better to examine than the man that “started” all of this, Colin Kaepernick?
Kaepernick went to the University of Nevada to play football on scholarship in the fall of 2006. As a college player, Kaepernick was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year twice, and is still the only player in FBS history to reach 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards. He was a 2nd round pick in the 2011 NFL draft and played second string behind Alex Smith for his first year and a half. In the middle of the 2012 season, Smith suffered a concussion and Kaepernick was given his chance to shine. Kaep lead his team to a stunning 32-7 victory against the Chicago Bears in his first career start. The following week brings us to our first strike against him. Alex Smith was cleared to play, but the 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh, elected to keep starting Kaepernick over Smith in the proceeding games. The elusive, dynamic, and young black QB had thus “taken” the job from the more experienced and traditionally styled white one. When Kaep started during the 2012 regular season, the 49ers went 5-2. He continued on by leading the team to the Superbowl against the Baltimore Ravens, where they lost 31-34.
Kaep’s second strike came during the 2014 season, in which he was fined by the NFL for using “inappropriate language,” because we all know that the football field is no place for foul language. This was also Kaep’s first “down year,” and the first time the team had not made the playoffs since 2010. At the end of the season, coach Harbaugh left the NFL to become the highest paid coach of all time at the University of Michigan.
Kaep struggled under the leadership of the 49ers’ new head coach, Jim Tomsula. They finished the season with a 5-11 record and recorded one of the worst offenses in the team’s history. Tomsula was fired and Kaep began expressing interest in being traded once veteran coach Chip Kelly was hired.
And now comes the all-too-familiar third strike. Coach Kelley named Blaine Gabbert as the new starter at the beginning of the 2016 season, but not before Kaep began his shin-nanigans (laugh at my sad attempt at a pun). Following national protests and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Colin Kaepernick took it upon himself to kneel while the National Anthem was being performed at the start of every NFL game. If you want to look at his actions from a non-biased standpoint, you can see how a sort of dialogue is being created by his actions. He was upset with the current state of his country; as an athlete that is regularly shown while the National Anthem is being performed, it makes sense for him to use this as a way to express his desire for change. On the flip side, it is understandable why people such as veterans might take this as a personal insult, even though that was not Kaep’s intention. The point is that both of these sides are defensible positions no matter which one you agree with more. The national outrage is the thing that was not defensible…
“How dare this uppity SOB speak out of line. He needs to learn his place. You know, there was a time when black people didn’t complain about being second-rate citizens; whatever happened to those times? Now we’ve got BLM on the news 24/7 and people shouting about police brutality and racism and a buncha other bullshit, and I can’t even watch football without hearing about it!”
Did I push any buttons yet? Well get ready because there’s probably more to come. You know who doesn’t ever get to stop hearing about police brutality? Colin Kaepernick. You know who doesn’t ever get to stop hearing about lower wages? Colin Kaepernick. You know who doesn’t ever get to stop hearing about injustices in the court and prison systems? Colin Kaepernick. He doesn’t get to stop hearing about it because he lives it every day. Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem has nothing to do with the Anthem itself, it has to do with acknowledging that fact that these things are happening at a time and place where it was never talked about before. Americans were upset because football games were places where they could safely ignore all the terrible things that still happen in our country. Kaepernick wasn’t kneeling to disrespect America, or because he hates it. He kneeled because it made people think about things like police brutality at a time when people are used to not having to think about it. Telling him and others to “shutup and play football” is the same as trying to silence them. He is not there strictly for your entertainment. If I may quote the late James Baldwin, “he is not your Negro.”
You may disagree with his politics, but the way you vocalize your disagreement is not by calling him a coward on Twitter, it is not by making a Facebook post about how he hates military vets, and it is not by booing him at his games. You need to open a dialogue with those that agree with him and actually listen to what they are saying. Posit this question to yourself, “if what they’re saying is true and I were in their position, what would I do?”
DISCLAIMER: I am, in no way, trying to throw names like Alex Smith, Chip Kelly, Jim Tomsula, or Jim Harbaugh under the bus. These men are all simply part of Colin Kaepernick’s story, and I am not attempting to implicate that any of their actions were malicious, wrong, or even racist. That being said, I do believe that the National Anthem protests played the biggest role for Chip Kelly and the 49ers’ staff when they made the decision to bench Kaepernick. I understand that this decision was made with a “team-first” mindset, but that does not mean that I agree with it. If you look back on this past weekend (September 24, 2017), you will find multiple examples of ways in which teammates, coaches, and even owners can make “team-first” decisions that support the entire team. Unfortunately, these decisions are most likely being made far too late to help Kaepernick.