I, like most people, have never met Colin Kaepernick. Yet, as a result of his actions on the sidelines, I join most Americans in having an opinion of him.
Now, I do not for one second believe the he is anti-American or that he hates this country. But because of the manner in which he chose to air his concerns, he is being vilified as a traitor, or at the very least, a selfish grandstander.
The overwhelming majority of comments that I have heard or read begin with a defense of his right to protest but end with a criticism of the manner in which he chose to express his opinions. What I have not heard, though, is any substantive discussion of the issues he raised.
I lived in Cleveland, Ohio, when Jim Brown, Muhammed Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Bill Russell, Bobby Mitchell and other high-profile athletes of the day banded together and held a press conference to protest social injustice and to raise awareness for civil rights.
As a student studying in Mexico City in 1968, I was in attendance at the Olympic Stadium when 200-meter gold- and silver- medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised their fists in a salute to human rights. In these cases, the athletes in question were vilified (to varying degrees) at the time they took their stand. But history has proven their stances, and even their actions, to be courageous and positively impactful.
Fast forward to today: one can only wonder why Colin has been so publicly vilified and why only a handful of other athletes who support what Colin is protesting have come forward to stand with him.
Where are the other professional athletes (aside from a handful of pro football players and women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe)? Where are the team owners? Where are the agents and financial advisors for black athletes? Where are the black elected and appointed officials? Where are the civil and human rights leaders? Where are the gay rights leaders? Where are the black business executives and owners? Where are the liberal politicians? Where are the liberal entertainers? Where are the Black Lives Matter leaders?
Whether we agree with Colin Kaepernick’s actions or not, the issue is before us now and should be addressed nationally. If not now, when? Another 50 years?
What might get the ball rolling (no pun intended) and serve as a catalyst for meaningful discussion would be for President Obama to convene a meeting with Colin Kaepernick and representatives from the aforementioned groups I listed above to clarify specifically what Colin is protesting and to stand with him and express in no uncertain terms his allegiance to this country and what our flag represents. Perhaps President Obama could launch a campaign to begin to address the issues that Colin Kaepernick has raised.
At the same time, Colin would do well to agree to suspend any further actions that could be considered disrespectful of our flag, as the negative attention it raises actually diminishes the impact of his message. Now that awareness has been raised, he might consider finding another way to state his case – one that honors the flag and what it stands for, while continuing to raise awareness for his pursuit of social justice.
Sometimes we have to put aside our personal opinions of the messenger and the method of delivery and focus on the message itself. In this case, we can (and will continue to) argue about the legitimacy of Colin’s actions and motives, but the overarching message of social justice and equality are woven into the fabric of this great nation and something everyone can agree on.
We, as citizens of the United States of America of all stripes and colors can make a difference. Regardless of how the issue was raised, we should focus on what unites us (rather than what divides us), embrace Colin’s message and do what we can to achieve the lofty goal of social justice.
Robb Pitts is a former Fulton County Commission and former President of the Atlanta City Council