It started last August when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was asked why he was sitting on the bench—he had yet to kneel—during the national anthem. He explained his actions by saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
He was asked in the days ahead when he would stand again and responded, “I’ll continue to sit…. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change, and 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 it’s supposed to—I’ll stand.”
This sparked a remarkably political NFL season, where Kaepernick’s actions were replicated on football fields, volleyball courts, soccer pitches, and even by cheerleaders and marching bands around the country. For four solid months, Colin Kaepernick kept this protest going in the face of death threats, relentless criticism, and the endangerment of his livelihood.
Now he says he will stand, and it has been shocking—although perhaps not surprising—to see the media backlash. The responses have been unified in their analysis: that Kaepernick is making this shift because he’s now a free agent looking for a team and is “selling out.” Some phrased their argument like this column from Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, a piece that’s written like an 800-word Trump tweet, headlined, “Colin Kaepernick a hypocrite as he ends national anthem protest now that he needs a new job.”
Even more measured, mainstream voices like Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk effectively had the same analysis, writing, “It’s hard not to be cynical and believe that Kaepernick is heading into free agency wanting to maximize his value and doesn’t want teams planning to bid on his services to view him as a distraction.”
And we will not even wade through the swamp of social-media comments from racists, trolls, and anonymous swamp-dwellers trashing Kaepernick for “being a sellout.” It’s shameless: the same people trashing him for not kneeling are the same voices and trolls—from the respectable to the deplorable—who trashed him for taking a knee in the first place. This is an echo of last August when many of the talking heads braying for Kaepernick to shut up and stand were just two months earlier praising Muhammad Ali upon his death. It is as if cognitive dissonance is their drug of choice, and their addiction is public, proud, and shameless.