On Sunday, I tuned in to my favorite football show, Sunday Night Football  and I watched Colin Kaepernick’s triumph. I was dumbfounded. Then I was exultant. They introduced the teams and then the teams lined up and there was a kickoff and the game started. We didn’t have any “national anthem protests” because the TV didn’t show the national anthem at all. Whatever it was that happened at the stadium, it wasn’t broadcast on TV.
I liked that. I am not an especially big fan of the singing—“mangling,” most often—of the Star Spangled Banner at football games. It seems an intrusion. I am sure it is supposed to give people a chance to express their patriotism, but what does it have to do with football?
Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, seems completely appropriate to me. Note that the ad shown here pushes the relationship between what you believe and your willingness to sacrifice for it. It celebrates, in other words, Kaepernick’s daring. That’s what it does explicitly. Implicitly, it celebrates his protest against police brutality. It says nothing at all about Kaepernick’s effect on the national anthem and it may be that they don’t really care. Nike is commercial if it is anything and “daring all” is a commercially successful fragment of the Nike brand.
I confess that it bothers me just a little that this same slogan could be used at a Nazi rally or a Klan rally. If the only question is whether you are willing to sacrifice for your beliefs, then I think that September 11 might not have been the best day to run the ad.
It could be argued, I suppose, that by showing Kaepernick’s face, they are, in effect, specifying the “something.” The something, in this case, is police violence against blacks. That transposes the Nike commercial into something like “Believe that Black Lives Matter and act out your commitment to that belief, even if it costs you your livelihood in football.”
Is it patriotic?
President Trump involved himself in this cultural skirmish by arguing that the actions Kaepernick—and eventually other players as well—was taking were violations of the patriotic overlay provided by the flags and the jets and the national anthem. I think he has a point. If attending to the flag and the anthem are acts of serious citizenship, then casual conversations during the opening ceremonies do show a lack of investment. So would wearing a hat, if you are a man, and so would putting on lipstick during the singing, if you were a woman.
Is it relevant?
Folding the flag reverently and presenting it to the widow of a serviceman is relevant. Burning the flag in protest of our country’s military adventurism is relevant. Either one may be wrong, but neither is irrelevant.
What Kaepernick did is to attach a cause that matters a great deal to him to an event that is about something else. It is, in that sense, parasitic. Attaching the singing of the national anthem to major sports events is parasitic in exactly the same way. These critiques touch my “All I want to do….” button. All I want to do is watch a football game. And then there is all this flag stuff and all the singing. And then Kaepernick takes this distraction and piles another distraction on top of it. It’s not about patriotism, it’s about racial violence.
Next, we come to the complicity phase of this farce. If you are not singing the national anthem—as you should be if you are really patriotic—or if you are not kneeling in protest (as you should be, etc.) then you are complicit. You are part of some THEM; the anti-patriotic fringe or the racist fringe and these are charges thrown at people who are there because they like football.
I will say that I like this picture of Denver Bronco’s offensive tackle Garrett Boles, who is celebrating his country with one hand and his teammate with the other. If it has to be on television, that is a good thing to see on television.
And that hits my “All I want to do…” button. That’s why I was so happy when NBC just skipped over all that and went straight to the kickoff. The NFL owners had already decided that they would not require the teams to be on the field when the patriotic overtures are being played. I thought that was a great idea. By being on the field, the players become exemplars and there is no real clarity about what they ought to be exemplifying. So…I’ve got an idea: let’s not make them be on the field.
President Trump, of course, says it isn’t about football or about racial justice, it’s about patriotism. That makes the kneeling players anti-American, rather than pro-justice. And when you can control “what it’s really about” that is the kind of thing you get to do. So far, he as not been able to establish that kind of control.
And some people say it is really about freedom of speech, as if the players who show up to perform and who are wearing the uniform of their team have the right, under the Constitution, to give their own personal opinions in that setting. When you are engaged in being a team member, you have the right to do anything that will make your team better. The players all know that when, after the game, someone sticks a microphone in the face and asks for an assessment of your quarterback’s performance. To my mind, it is the same in the pre-game liturgies. You can all kneel, you can all stand, you can all stay in the locker room.
Do we hafta?
But this whole controversy is based on how to pervert the patriotic exercises with which we begin the game. It is taken for granted that there will be such exercises and the only question is how to use them to advance some other agenda. But, of course, we don’t have to have them. Or, at least, we don’t have to televise them. So now, on Sunday Night Football at least, the game starts with one team kicking off to the other team.
And that is Colin Kaepernick’s triumph. Thank you, Colin.
 I am a big fan of Cris Collinsworth, the Sunday Night Football color commentator.