San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been making headlines this past week for refusing to stand during the pre-game national anthem. While other national sports leagues, like the NBA, require participation in the national anthem, the NFL has clarified in a statement that “players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem” in response to the Kaepernick controversy.
This story bled into mainstream discussion when Kaepernick went on the record about his motives. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in an interview with NFL Media.
With current racial tensions heightened in the shadow of a national police brutality debate, the country is divided on the integrity of Kaepernick’s cause and actions. In particular, the contrast between liberal and conservative media responses are interesting to take into account.
The Young Turks, a progressive new media outlet, did a segment on the controversy. “I disagree with the manner in which he [protested], but I think that’s a lot less important than the fact he’s willing to put a spotlight on the right issue and get that fixed,” host Cenk Uygur commented.
President Obama shared similar sentiments, stating that “[Kaepernick’s] exercising his constitutional right to make a statement… as a general matter, when it comes to the flag and the national anthem, the meaning that that holds for our men and women in uniform and those who fought for us, that is a tough thing for them to get past.”
Obama continues, affirming Kaepernick’s cause, noting, “I don’t doubt his sincerity […] if nothing else, what he’s done is generated more conversation about issues that need to be talked about.”
Mark E. Anderson, a veteran and progressive writer for the Daily Kos, compares the athlete to the likes of Muhammad Ali, saying, “Kaepernick is in a unique position: Because of his celebrity status, he has a platform. And his voice should be encouraged […] we should be asking: What can we do to fix this? […] The backlash to his action and words says that we have a very long way to go in this country towards racial equality.”
Other liberal pundits have been quick to point out the apparent hypocrisy of the right-wing backlash against Kaepernick, saying that the right-wing believes that provocative statements and certain means of protest are only permissible when it is addressing issues they support.
Kyle Kulinski, host of the progressive podcast Secular Talk, satirizes the negative conservative response to Kaepernick’s actions, presenting it as childish in his segment: “You know how right wing [political correct] police, social justice warriors […] respond, ‘You’re a bad person. Bad. I hate you. Why don’t you stand for the anthem? Leave America then if you don’t like it. Boo. Boo. Boo.’ Again, they don’t sense the hypocrisy. They don’t get it.”
Kulinski also raises the point in his segment that liberals do not know how to protest in a way that will please conservative commentators, pointing out “for everyone who’s against Colin Kaepernick here, sit down with a pen and paper, and write up all the ways you do approve for left wingers to protest… you can disagree with the substance of what the left is saying […] but [you should] defend [Kaepernick’s] right to do what he’s doing because this is what America’s about.”
David Pakman, host of the left-wing podcast the David Pakman Show, presents yet another way to analyze this perceived hypocrisy, commenting, “Think about that double standard. Many of the same people who considered Donald Trump a patriot for going around and saying ‘I’m going to make America great again’ are saying that Colin Kaepernick is unpatriotic for pointing out what he sees as the failings of our country. Why isn’t Trump being called the traitor for saying our country isn’t great anymore?”
On the other side of the aisle, the conservatives frame the situation as an issue of patriotism to the U.S. instead. While they respect Kaepernick’s constitutional right to protest, they take issue towards the fact that Kaepernick was protesting in such a disrespectful way.
Tomi Lahren, an outspoken conservative political commentator for the Blaze, disapproved of Kaepernick’s actions, stating, “Colin, I support your right to freedom of speech and expression… It’s this country, the country that you have so much disdain for that allows you the right to speak your mind. It protects your right to be a whiny, indulgent, attention-seeking crybaby, and it protects my right to shred you for it.”
She then continued to voice her issues with Kaepernick’s actual actions, making the case that the flag represents “patriots of every race who have fought and died for this country, and we honor the flag and sing the anthem as a reminder.” Her multiple tirades against the quarterback led to a liberal social media backlash, with articles painting her and the conservative stance on the Kaepernick ordeal as racist.
@TomiLahren Just admit you’re racist or you’re a white supremacist. It’s way too clear.
— King_Dennis (@Ballsohard_dee) September 7, 2016
All she can talk about is kaepernick but no word about the rapist Brock turner??? Yeah… She’s a bigot. @TomiLahren
— Jewanna♥ (@JuanaCano94) September 7, 2016
— jeffpearlman (@jeffpearlman) August 31, 2016
In her new video Tomi Lahren calls Kaepernick a “whiny, indulgent, attention seeking cry-baby” does she not watch her own videos?
— Sam Leapaldt (@SamLeo5) August 30, 2016
Red State contributor Kyle Foley condemned Kaepernick in his article, interviewing a veteran about the controversy.“Next time Kaepernick wants to talk about social issues, maybe he can find a more respectful way to do it that does not make him look like a disrespectful tool,” Foley wrote.
Republican nominee Donald Trump also echoes Lahren’s and Koley’s sentiments that Kaepernick seems to be disrespecting the American opportunity, which led Kaepernick to success in the first place. “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen” he stated.
Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the conservative podcast the Daily Wire, frames the conversation in a completely different fashion, attributing Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the anthem as a publicity stunt to save “his failing career.” Shapiro explains how he feels Kaepernick’s protest “represents the mainstream left […] If you […] say ‘I don’t think America is a very racist place. I think America is a great place,’ then you get ripped as a sellout. You get ripped as an Uncle Tom. If you do what Kaepernick did, you get praised by the media: sports and political both.”
Shapiro presents a new dimension of the conversation, one that promotes a sense of inherent liberal bias even in the discourse of sport reporters and a view of liberals as oversimplifying conservative arguments.
There seem to be two responses to Kaepernick’s protest of the flag: encouragement or criticism.
However, the points and interpretation risen from pundits on both sides of the political spectrum prove to be powerful and thought-provoking. However hateful or supportive the responses have been to Kaepernick’s actions, his celebrity has given him a platform to promote broader political and social discourse about the need for both social reform, patriotism, and race in America.