by Trevor Beaulieu
Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the U.S. national anthem was originally intended to make a statement about state-sanctioned lethal violence against black people. But conservatives, liberals, NFL team owners, athletes, fans, and celebrities, among others, have in a variety of ways co-opted and diluted the demonstration. Once President Donald Trump noisily injected himself into the flap, this derailment and dilution officially peaked. The national conversation, while louder than ever, may be irretrievably off-message.
No one even noticed the first two times Kaepernick sat for the anthem in August 2016. After the third instance, though, Kaepernick was asked about his protest. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said. Amid the ensuing controversy, Kaepernick parted ways with his team, the 49ers, at the end of last season and remains unsigned.
For more than a year, despite the attention, shows of support from Kaepernick’s fellow NFL players were relatively few and scattered. That changed on September 22 when Trump addressed a crowd at a rally in Alabama. Trump told the crowd, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired!’” Days later, on Twitter, Trump cast his opposition as being “about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.”
Trump’s remarks succeeded in singlehandedly shifting the discourse around Kaepernick’s protest. Whether it was a masterstroke or he stumbled into it, Trump turned the #TakeAKnee protests into a circus that rendered the gesture impotent.
The national debate was no longer about the state-sanctioned murder of black people. Instead, it became the type of liberal-versus-conservative culture war bickering that typically dominates the news cycle. Talking heads began debating the issue in terms of free speech, anti-Trump #resistance talk. Think pieces popped up expounding on whether patriotic displays belong at NFL games, and how much the NFL was paid by the government to have them.
Before Trump’s statements, Kaepernick’s protest didn’t fit into a neat partisan framing. He had begun his silent demonstrations under Barack Obama, a black Democratic president. Kaepernick said it “didn’t really matter” to him whether Trump or Hillary Clinton won, since neither showed any real commitment to addressing his concerns. Bill Maher called him “a fucking idiot” for creating what he called a false equivalency between the two presidential candidates.
SOURCE: The Intercept_