Richard Winowski

Like so many Americans, I was shocked and disgusted when I first saw San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting down for the playing of our national anthem as a protest against social injustice. In the weeks since, it seems like every time I turn on my TV to watch football, there are more and more NFL players sitting, kneeling, or raising their fists during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And while I certainly respect the right of these players to protest, I just wish they could find a different way to do so that doesn’t start any kind of national dialogue.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: I completely understand that as African Americans, these players are frustrated with what they perceive as targeted police brutality against minorities. I realize that they are directly affected by racially motivated discrimination, unfair treatment, and institutional oppression. Believe me, I get it. But the bottom line is that there are other forms of demonstration that can draw attention to these issues without sparking a substantive and meaningful discourse across the country. Would that really be so hard?

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Part of what makes America so great is that our citizens have the freedom of speech. I’m all for these players—or anyone else, for that matter—expressing their opinions, but once they start shifting the nation’s focus to serious and pressing matters facing millions of people, that’s where I draw the line. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe in any so-called “protest” if it involves raising awareness of systemic problems within our society.

Nobody wants that. As a proud American, I know I don’t.

No, America is not perfect, and yes, there are challenges facing us as a nation that need to be addressed. But a big public spectacle that inspires collective self-reflection and a thoughtful examination of the country’s morals is not the solution. Nor, I might add, is using fame and notoriety to start a conversation that tries to widen the perspectives of people from all different walks of life.

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Instead of going down on one knee or raising a fist during the anthem, can’t these players stand up for what they believe in without creating a platform for the free exchange of ideas and differing points of view? I mean, isn’t that—and not an environment of honesty and empathy—what we should be striving for?

Though I admire their intentions, I hope that going forward, these men choose a different forum for their actions, ideally one that is totally out of the public eye and garners no national media coverage whatsoever. A sporting event is, frankly, not the time or place for anyone—least of all a bunch of millionaire professional athletes—to be making political statements, especially if those statements cause people to engage in introspection or mindful discussion.

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So to all the players around the NFL who have joined one another in protest, I would just say this: Do what you feel is right. But please try to remember that when you make your point in front of that red, white, and blue flag, you’re also forcing me—as well as so many of your fellow Americans—to think, consider the feelings of others, and act like a human being.

Maybe Colin Kaepernick should think about that before deciding to kneel at the 49ers’ next game.

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