Why the Kaeper­nick con­tro­versy goes deeper than you re­alise

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

IN an act of protest, San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick sat through the na­tional an­them be­fore his team’s foot­ball game this past week, set­ting off a firestorm of crit­i­cism – and once again high­light­ing the NFL’s com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with pa­tri­o­tism and the US mil­i­tary.

Kaeper­nick said he was sit­ting out to stand up for mi­nori­ties he says are op­pressed across the coun­try, cit­ing widely reported in­stances of police bru­tal­ity. His stance has led to ac­cu­sa­tions that he is dis­re­spect­ing the United States as a whole, and troops and vet­er­ans who have served in com­bat specif­i­cally.

Re­tired Army lieu­tenant colonel Kelly Crig­ger ac­cused Kaeper­nick on Au­gust 29 in an open let­ter on the vet­er­ans site We Are The Mighty of of­fend­ing “99 per­cent of the 324 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who have noth­ing to do with the is­sue you’re protest­ing”. Kaeper­nick should protest “the right way” by fund­ing schol­ar­ships for mi­nori­ties, do­nat­ing foot­ball equip­ment to in­ner-city schools or writ­ing about the prob­lem, Crig­ger said.

“You’re not a free­dom fighter lead­ing your peo­ple out of bondage,” Crig­ger wrote. “You’re an illinformed ath­lete who’s only fan­ning the fires of racism by sit­ting on the side­lines for a prin­ci­ple that you only un­der­stand through a sim­plis­tic pop nar­ra­tive that’s lit­tle more than a hash­tag cam­paign.”

A num­ber of NFL play­ers shared sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments, ac­cus­ing Kaeper­nick of dis­re­spect­ing US troops or worse. Min­nesota Vik­ings guard Alex Boone called his de­ci­sion “shame­ful”, while Houston Tex­ans quar­ter­back TJ Yates tweeted that “it blows my mind how many peo­ple hate the coun­try they live in” be­fore later delet­ing the mes­sage.

But the NFL’s re­la­tion­ship with the mil­i­tary and pa­tri­o­tism is com­pli­cated, and in­cludes the con­tro­ver­sial ex­change of money be­tween the De­fense Depart­ment and the NFL for patriotic tributes.

No­tably, a 2015 Se­nate re­port de­tailed how the De­fense Depart­ment had paid at least US$6.8 mil­lion for so-called “paid pa­tri­o­tism”, in which tributes to the troops were car­ried out at sport­ing events in ex­change for money. The ef­forts ranged from mem­bers of the mil­i­tary singing the na­tional an­them to the un­furl­ing of large Amer­i­can flags on the field. The At­lanta Fal­cons alone re­ceived $879,000 over four years, while the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots got $700,000 and the Buf­falo Bills re­ceived $650,000. The prac­tice was dis­con­tin­ued af­ter be­ing ex­posed.

Kaeper­nick’s crit­ics have crit­i­cised him by com­par­ing him to a few NFL play­ers who went on to serve in the mil­i­tary, but those ef­forts have of­ten dis­tilled com­pli­cated sto­ries down to a few talk­ing points.

In one ex­am­ple, de­trac­tors drew at­ten­tion to the story of Glen Cof­fee, who briefly played with the 49ers in 2009 and went on to serve in the Army. A meme widely dis­trib­uted over the week­end on so­cial me­dia said Cof­fee “gave up mil­lions of dol­lars and an NFL ca­reer to serve his coun­try”, but he ac­tu­ally told The Wash­ing­ton Post in an in­ter­view last sum­mer that he stopped play­ing foot­ball be­cause he didn’t find it re­ward­ing, had “no clue” what he was go­ing to do af­ter­ward, and en­listed in the Army a cou­ple years later.

While the meme asks “Who’s the real hero?”, real­ity sug­gests Cof­fee’s ca­reer was not ex­em­plary: He was dis­charged in May af­ter be­ing de­moted a rank to pri­vate first class, ac­cord­ing to his Army record. He ini­tially joined the Army to be­come a Green Beret, but washed out of the qual­i­fi­ca­tion course and left the mil­i­tary af­ter not de­ploy­ing and serv­ing an un­usual three years and four months, less than the typ­i­cal four-year contract. At­tempts to reach Cof­fee through Face­book and phone num­bers listed for him were un­suc­cess­ful ear­lier this week.

Photo: EPA

Overt ges­tures of pa­tri­o­tism, such as this giant flag at a Carolina Pan­thers vs Ari­zona Car­di­nals game in 2011, are a stan­dard in Amer­i­can foot­ball games – and cost US taxpay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars.

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