Colin Kaepernick started the conversation 16 days ago when he sat during the playing of the national anthem during the San Francisco 49ers game against the Green Bay Packers. But Doug Baldwin crystallized the entire debate with stirring words in a video posted on his Twitter account Saturday, the day before the Seattle Seahawks stood as one, with arms locked, as the anthem played before their game with the Miami Dolphins.
Reality and the world of football have collided in an important way since that Aug. 26 night even though Kaepernick had also refused to stand in two previous preseason games. He kneeled on one knee before the 49ers’ final preseason game, which is what Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall did Thursday night prior to his team’s game against the Carolina Panthers. Supporting Kaepernick, Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sat during the anthem in Seattle’s final preseason game.
Unfortunately, most of the discussion has been about all the wrong things, ranging from players’ rights to do what they did to whether this was the proper venue to do it. Most notably, several head coaches felt whatever players did, it should be done as a team.
Perhaps those words were heeded because that was the case Sunday on a day in which the NFL and many others around the country remembered the horrific day of Sept. 11, 2001, when all our lives changed after terrorists flew their planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and ,the Pentagon, and brave passengers helped crash a hijacked plane into a Pennsylvania field.
Not only did the Seahawks’ players lock arms, but so did the Kansas City Chiefs, accentuated by cornerback Marcus Peters, who at the far right end of the line of players clenched his right fist and raised it in the air.
It was all about unity, which is what 9/11 taught us, although at times it seems much of the message has been forgotten in the lapse of years.
Former Rams running back Marshall Faulk, whose team played in the Super Bowl that season, said on NFL Network, “That whole season was dedicated to America. It was very special,” noting that New Orleans was his hometown and “there was red, white and blue flying around.”
He added, “Yes, we lost, but it showed you can hurt us but you can’t keep us down. We were all one. That Super Bowl, it symbolized that.”
In Baldwin’s video, as headshots of Seahawks players were displayed, the symbolism was clear. He said, “We are a team comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, and as a team we have decided to stand and interlock arms in unity. We honor those who have fought for the freedom we cherish, and we stand to ensure the riches of freedom and the security of justice for all people. Progress can and will be made only if we stand together.”
Unfortunately, some Dolphins players didn’t get the message. Across the field, while the Seahawks stood as one, four players – running back Arian Foster, wide receivers Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills, and linebacker Jelani Jenkins – took a knee during the anthem.
Baldwin had hoped by making the team’s plans known, others might follow suit. The Chiefs did. Prior to Sunday, Baldwin said, “Even if it wasn’t September 11, the point of the protest is to get people to think. It’s very ironic that 15 years ago, on September 11, it was one of the most devastating times in U.S. history, but after that day we were probably the most unified we’ve ever been.
“Today, you struggle to see the unity and it’s very ironic to me that this day is coming up. It’s going to be a special day, a very significant day, but at the same time I’m looking forward to making better changes in our country.”
That is what’s important, and no matter how much criticism Kaepernick received, — along with support – his conversation starter has now shifted the focus.
As President Obama said, “If nothing else, what he’s done is he’s generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.”
A statement from the Chiefs said, “It’s our job as professional athletes to make a positive impact on our communities and to be proactive when change is needed. Together we are going to continue to have conversations, educate ourselves and others on social issues and work with local law enforcement officials and leaders to make an impact on the Kansas City community.”
Kaepernick, whose team doesn’t play until Monday night, has pledged $1 million to organizations that work on those issues. The 49ers organization will match it and club CEO Jed York tweeted that we have to “get the focus where it belongs.”
The Packers and head coach Mike McCarthy each made grants of $100,000 to the Green Bay Police Foundation to “be directed to support the Foundation’s efforts to build and enhance relationships between the police and the community.”
In the beginning, there wasn’t talk about solutions. Now there is. CBS analyst Boomer Esiason got it partially wrong when he talked about the Seahawks’ unity and said, “I hope that this is a transitional, defining moment to end this discussion.”
No, it shouldn’t end the discussion; it should only start it, at least when it means working for change.
For that, Colin Kaepernick should be proud.