An Apology to Colin Kaepernick

It’s easy (and tempting) to demonize those with whom we disagree, but it isn’t helpful. Nobody likes to be labeled with unflattering names.

By John Leonard

Unfortunately, I must admit that I’m just as guilty as anyone else to sometimes being judgmental and perhaps a bit of hypocrite, should I attempt to excuse myself from being equally culpable.

For example, I feel that I owe Colin Kaepernick an apology for writing that he was “nothing but an average to mediocre football player and an attention-seeking clown who doesn’t deserve any of Cam Newton’s respect.”

The truth of the matter is that I’m not an expert on NFL quarterbacks. My opinions have obviously been jaded by the fact it upsets me to see NFL players showing what I interpreted as disrespect for the national anthem. Furthermore, I’ve also been an NFL fan for much of my life and vividly remember that “my” Atlanta Falcons were denied a trip to the Super Bowl because they couldn’t stop Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game. So for me to describe Mr. Kaepernick’s NFL talent level as average to mediocre is dubious at best, and ridiculous at worst.

On the other hand, I love this land of my birth, where Mr. Kaepernick has been given the opportunity to earn millions of dollars because of his athletic talent. In previous years he has excelled playing a game that requires toughness, intelligence, and extraordinary skill to play well. Truth be known, the excessively harsh rhetoric I previously used to describe Mr. Kaepernick smacks of being sour grapes when it comes to my personal opinion. Perhaps the most appropriate description of my attitude would be “sore loser.”

By the same token, I’m well aware that all of this nonsense didn’t start until Kaepernick started taking a knee during the anthem last year. It’s true that simple gesture of silent protest has significantly damaged a business that has provided me with entertainment for most of my adult life. I am also keenly aware that Mr. Kaepernick likes to make questionable fashion statements by wearing t-shirts honoring murderous Communist dictators like Fidel Castro, sometimes accessorizing his attire with socks decorated with pigs wearing police uniforms. All of this information has surely created some degree of bias toward Colin Kaepernick in my mind, because I consider myself a patriot.

What I didn’t know was that Mr. Kaepernick had originally planned to sit during the national anthem. Out of respect for a former Green Beret named Nate Boyer (after the two men met privately) Kaepernick decided to kneel as a compromise — with Boyer kneeling on the field right there next to him.

It also occurs to me that one of my biggest objections to the antics of Mr. Kaepernick was it insulted the service of soldiers like Mr. Boyer, who took credit for the idea that Mr. Kaepernick kneel during the anthem in the first place, which makes my objections look rather silly. It isn’t fair to lambast Mr. Kaepernick for being willing to listen, and compromise. So I must apologize.

Mr. Kaepernick seems very concerned about the issues championed by Black Lives Matter — police brutality and the targeting of young black men by the cops. I just don’t think I have any credibility to speak with him about that issue.

I don’t expect him to listen to my thoughts and opinions, but I sure would like him to speak with Larry Elder and learn the truth about those controversial claims. I could be persuaded by Mr. Kaepernick to take the complaints of the Black Lives Matter movement seriously, assuming that he can produce better evidence than Mr. Elder cited from the FBI about gun violence involving blacks.

NFL players truly believe they are sacrificing to promote the noble cause of social justice, and NFL owners will eventually have to perform a cost/benefit analysis. The protesting players might make the difference between one or two more wins per year, but if total revenue declines by 25 percent, are these players worth the damage being done to the business operating the game? The popularity of the game has been adversely affected by these protests taking place on the field. The league is not producing income like it has in years past. Attendance at games have dropped. Merchandise sales have dropped. Sales of DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket have dropped. The owners cannot print money, but existing contracts must be honored regardless of whether the team is making money. It won’t happen overnight, but future NFL player contracts will need to be negotiated for less money, because fewer fans are watching games.

Something’s got to give. I can’t speak for every fan, but it’s not going to be me.

People like Mr. Kaepernick tend to mystify me, because of the incongruity of the millionaire Socialist. After all, it would be his wealth redistributed in a true Marxist society, not mine. He’s earned more money for a part-time job, sitting on a bench, than I’ve earned in my entire working career — and I’ve always been paid a fair salary to compensate me for the work I’ve done. And I say, good for him. Is this a great country, or what? There’s just no reason for me to be jealous of Colin Kaepernick. The 49er organization felt he was worth it.

For that matter, I should not envy more successful authors like James Patterson or Michael Connelly. Good for them. If I want the same sort of success for my novels as those whose achievements I admire, I need to work even harder. It’s incentive. I know it can be done. I just haven’t figured out how to do it myself — not yet, anyway.

In 1989 I spent six months working in Hong Kong, at a time when residents of the city were scared. The Chinese were scheduled to assume control of the government from the British in 1997, and people were gravely concerned that the Communists would destroy a thriving capitalist economy. Many citizens of Hong Kong began applying for permission to immigrate, desperate to escape the threat of Communist rule. My passport was probably stolen (I had been paranoid about losing it), forcing me to visit the U.S. embassy to get a new one. The line wrapped around the embassy fence and seemed to stretch forever. It looked like thousands of people had come to apply for an immigration visa to the U.S. and got there long before my arrival at the back of the line.

When I fretted aloud that I would be away from the office much longer than I’d anticipated, the person waiting in front of me turned and smiled, then said, “You’re an American. You don’t have to wait. You can go to the front of the line.”

He was absolutely right. I didn’t have to wait more than ten minutes to meet with an embassy representative. I still had my driver’s license, making it easy to prove I was a U.S. citizen. It’s a wonderful privilege, to be an American.

If only every American understood that, and felt the same way.

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