Kaepernick had other options

Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming …

Recently, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick publicly demonstrated that he is not proud to be an American. Several liberal commentators quickly followed, apparently welcoming the opportunity to explain to their fellow Americans how our patriotism, pride, and respect for our brave veterans is misplaced.

The Constitution gives Mr. Kaepernick the right to disrespect our flag, and the right to voice his protest against our government, and the right to ignore the sacrifices of those whose blood paid for those rights. But that doesn’t make Mr. Kaepernick right.

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?

More than 1.3 million Americans have died defending the flag which Mr. Kaepernick has chosen to disrespect. Nearly 1.5 million more have been wounded. Meanwhile, Mr. Kaepernick will be paid $11.9 million this season to play a game.

Does Mr. Kaepernick have the right to protest what he sees as injustice? Absolutely, but why does his protest need to include disrespect for those who died to defend his rights? Is he ungrateful?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there …

In his interview with NFL.com, Mr. Kaepernick explained, “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.”

Mr. Kaepernick seems to equate “pride” and “respect” with “acceptance” and “endorsement.”

My policy disagreements with President Obama are well-documented, including in regular columns in this newspaper. Would it surprise you to know that on the few occasions I have been in the same room with President Obama, I have shown him full respect, including standing when he enters the room?

When I demonstrate respect for President Obama, I am not simultaneously agreeing with his disastrous domestic policy, inept handling of the economy, and feckless foreign policy. What I am demonstrating is respect for his office, and his position, and the country he and I both represent. Put another way, I’m acting the way my mother taught me to act, and showing common decency.

There are many ways Mr. Kaepernick could voice his protest while simultaneously respecting our flag. Go vote. Run for public office. Organize an orderly protest march. Volunteer at an inner city school as a tutor, lunch buddy, or coach. Host a forum to foster dialogue between young black men and local police. Voice your concerns in each and every interview you give as an NFL quarterback. These forms of protest would actually accomplish some good, instead of enhancing an already toxic environment.

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

As an American, I am deeply thankful that our Star Spangled Banner does still wave. Our Founding Fathers’ great experiment in self-rule has produced the greatest country on earth, with incomparable freedoms, liberties, and opportunities which we too often take for granted. Does Mr. Kaepernick realize citizens of other nations are arrested, tortured, and even killed for their forms of protest?

We are not perfect. We have made mistakes. We will make mistakes again. This is the reality of living in an imperfect world. Yet our inability to achieve perfection should not diminish our pride in a country that has accomplished more than anyone could dream, and by God’s grace, our best days are still ahead.

Congressman Robert Pittenger (NC-09) is Chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, and serves on the House Financial Services Committee, with a special focus on supporting small businesses, community banks, and credit unions.

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