Colin Kaepernick took a courageous and principled stand this past season by kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. This was done in response to a society that continues to systematically, culturally, and institutionally devalue non-white lives. This devaluation is played out in many areas, including politics, economics, housing, employment, and perhaps most notably, within the criminal justice system. Non-white lives are routinely extinguished by police in the streets without recourse, in the courts without pause, and in the prisons without hesitation. Entire generations of non-white Americans have essentially been destroyed through the “school-to-prison pipeline” and a system of mass incarceration.
Kaepernick recognized this and felt compelled to bring attention to it. He openly protested the national anthem, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to community agencies, and started a national youth camp program to teach children from marginalized communities about self-empowerment.
He is now a free agent, in the prime of his career, and without a job. By all “measurables” (and the NFL is big on “measurables”), Kaepernick should have a starting job somewhere. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2016, he still managed to put up impressive numbers in only 12 games: 2,241 passing yard, 468 rushing yards on a 6.8 yards-per-carry average, a 16/4 TD/INT ratio, and a passer rating of 90.7. His passer rating was higher than that of 13 other starting QBs, including Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco.
The only reasonable explanation for Kaepernick’s newfound unemployment status is that he’s being blackballed by billionaire NFL owners. We’ve seen this before. Muhammad Ali, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Craig Hodges, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos all faced similar treatment after using their platforms to take principled stands. Kaepernick has made millions of dollars in the NFL, so he will be fine either way. But there are many lessons to be learned from this situation.
One important lesson is how the capitalist class relies on patriotism to help protect and secure its position in society. The notion of patriotism is one that tells the working class within any given country that they have a deep, common bond with the owning class. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the owning-class minority drives the working-class majority into widespread deprivation in order to secure more and more wealth for itself. One way to hide this reality is to create an artificial bond based in geographic nationalism — patriotism.
While globalizing its capital, the owning class calls for “national unity.” While laying off American workers in mass, it airs multi-million dollar ad campaigns celebrating patriotic loyalty. While employing foreign workers for slave wages, it parades its brand name during celebrations of national independence. While driving wages down and forcing American workers into welfare programs, it asks that you celebrate “American values.” While systematically exploiting the majority, it demands that this majority remain loyal to its nationalistic ties.
Patriotism is a crucial tool for the owning class. To them, Kaepernick’s refusal to submit to this nationalistic ritual was not merely “disrespect”; it was a potentially damaging challenge to this incredibly important tool that is wielded in their quest to extract all of society’s wealth. For this reason, it is vitally important that Kaepernick be taught a lesson. The NFL’s billionaire class is in the process of carrying out this lesson.