The Kneelers

Last football season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting the oppression of “people of color” in America.  He did this by refusing to stand and place his right hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem, as is customary and expected in the United States. Instead, Kaepernick kneeled on the sidelines beside his teammates.

I have three problems with this: (1) the messenger, (2) the message, and (3) the way the message is being delivered.


The Messenger

Colin Kaepernick was sired by a black man who abandoned Colin’s mother, a 19-year-old named Heidi Russo, before Colin was born.  Colin was adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, cheese-makers from Wisconsin who later moved to California. 

Kaepernick was a three-sport varsity letterman in football, baseball, and basketball, and maintained a 4.0 GPA at his high school in Turlock, California.  He was such an outstanding baseball player that it was expected he might be drafted by a major league team right out of high school.

In part because it was thought he would pursue baseball, Kaepernick was offered only one football scholarship, to the University of Nevada at Reno.  Kaepernick opted for football, went to Nevada and played five seasons with the Wolf Pack, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in business management.  

The San Francisco 49ers drafted Kaepernick with the 36th overall pick in the 2011 draft.  Like most NFL rookies, Kaepernick did not start but backed up the veteran starting quarterback, Alex Smith.  In November, 2012, however, Smith suffered a concussion, and Kaepernick came in and finished the game.  Smith needed only a couple of weeks to heal, but Kaepernick was playing superbly, and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh decided to start Kaepernick for as long as he had the “hot hand.”  Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, narrowly losing the title to the Baltimore Ravens, 31 to 34.  In 2013, Kaepernick had another great season, taking his team to the NFC Championship game, narrowly losing to the Seattle Seahawks one game short of the Super Bowl.

After two amazing seasons, Kaepernick felt it was time for the Forty-niners to “show me the money,” and they did just that.  On June 4, 2014, Kaepernick signed a six-year contract extension worth up to $126 million, including $54 million in potential guarantees, and $13 million fully guaranteed. 

Immediately after he became a multi-millionaire, Kaepernick’s level of play dropped precipitously. 

The 49ers finished the 2014 season a mediocre 8 and 8, missing the playoffs.  Kaepernick was fined by the NFL twice, once for using foul language on the field, another time for wearing non-sponsored headphones to a press conference.  Kaepernick’s poor played continued in 2015, and midway through the season he was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert.  The 49ers limped to a losing 5 and 11 record. Kaepernick expressed a desire to be traded.

The next year, 2016, Kaepernick began his kneeling protest. He sat on the bench during the national anthem for the first three pre-season games.  But apparently no one noticed, so during the final pre-season game, Kaepernick moved up alongside his standing teammates, but took a knee.  His reason:

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. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem continued throughout the season.  It did not help the 49ers:  After Gabbert started 1 and 4, he was benched and Kaepernick was named the starter, but Colin managed to eke out only one narrow win, and the team finished a dismal 2 and 14. 

One wonders how a guy like Colin Kaepernick came to believe that America oppresses people of color. His own life tells the opposite story.  By abandoning his mother before Colin was born, Colin’s black biological father would have “oppressed” Colin into an impoverished, fatherless childhood.  But three white people came to Colin’s rescue: his mother, who wisely put him up for adoption, and a white couple for whom Colin’s race did not disqualify him from their love, bounty, and family name.  As a result, Kaepernick lacked for nothing during his childhood and adolescence.

Did Kaepernick meet with racism as a child?  Well, “Us Weekly” published this story under the headline, “Colin Kaepernick Details Racial Struggle from His Childhood”:

I knew I was different to my parents and my older brother and sister.  I never felt that I was supposed to be white. Or black, either. My parents just wanted to let me be who I needed to be.

We used to go on these summer driving vacations and stay at motels.  And every year, in the lobby of every motel, the same thing always happened, and it only got worse as I got older and taller. It didn’t matter how close I stood to my family, somebody would walk up to me, a real nervous manager, and say: “Excuse me. Is there something I can help you with?”

That’s it?  That’s Colin’s big “racial struggle”?  That while they were on vacation his adoptive parents had to tell hotel managers, “he’s with us, he’s our son”? 

Because he was a gifted athlete, Kaepernick got a scholarship to college—no student loans or part-time jobs for him.  Then he went straight to the NFL where, after three seasons, he landed a $126 million contract.  Why was Colin Kaepernick able to become a multi-millionaire in his mid-twenties?  Because Americans love football, and they want to see only the best athletes playing it regardless of race.  So even though most football fans are white, and fewer than 13% of Americans are black, 67% of NFL players are black.  The minimum salary for veterans of more than two years is $615,000 per season, but the average player makes about $2 million.  The NFL is a machine for turning black men into millionaires.  

Should Colin Kaepernick be on his knees?  Oh, yes, he should! He should be on his knees thanking God that he was born in America, thanking God that he was adopted by a loving family, thanking God that he was born with rare physical gifts, thanking God that he had free access to coaches at Turlock, Nevada, and San Francisco who helped him develop his talent, and thanking God that he can be paid millions of dollars a year for playing a kid’s game.  Instead of complaining about America, Kaepernick should be praising her to the heavens.  Instead of saying that America oppresses people of color, he should be saying, “I’m a person of color and this country has blessed me beyond my capacity to count my blessings or even comprehend them all.”  There should be a river of gratitude flowing out of Colin Kaepernick’s heart like the crystal river flowing from the throne of God. 

Instead, there’s a poisonous swamp of ingratitude, evil surmising, and hatred for country suppurating out of his wretched heart of darkness.  Considering what kind of man he is, I don’t care what Colin Kaepernick thinks about anything.  I will use his beliefs as a quick reference on what not to believe, and his public statements as a guide to what should never be said.  

There is a problem with the messenger.


The Message

The point of Kaepernick’s disrespect for our flag and national anthem was to draw attention to what he believes is a serious problem: police shootings of blacks.  (He seems not to like cops; in 2016, he wore socks to practice sessions depicting police officers as pigs.)  Regardless what Kaepernick believes, however, America does not have a serious or systemic problem of racist cops killing black people.

Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer (who is black) analyzed more than 1,000 officer-involved shootings across America; his 2016 study concluded that there is zero evidence of racial bias in police shootings.  Fryer found that in Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city, black suspects were 23.8% less likely than whites to be shot by police officers, even when the suspects were armed or violent.

A recent study by Lois James of Washington State University found that officers were less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white or Hispanic suspects in simulated threat scenarios.

Death at the hands of law enforcement is a greater threat to white civilians than blacks—three times greater.  A Washington Post analysis of federal crime statistics revealed that twelve percent (12%) of white and Hispanic homicide deaths were at the hands of police officers, but cops caused only four percent (4%) of black homicide deaths. 

The lack of evidence of bias against blacks in police shootings and homicides is remarkable given that blacks commit crime far out of proportion to their numbers.  Although blacks compose only 15% of the population of America’s 75 most populous counties, blacks account for 62% of charged robberies, 57% of murders and 45% of assaults in those counties. 

Police work is dangerous.  In 2016, 118 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty, up 37% from 2015.  52 of the 118 police deaths were accidental but 66 were intentional homicides.  Police officers are 18 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.  In their encounters with black suspects, most officers demonstrate professionalism, good judgment, and restraint in the use of lethal force.    

We know who is killing blacks, and it is not police officers: of 2,491 blacks murdered in 2013, the killer was also black in 2,245 of those cases—ninety percent (90%) of the cases.  In the first half of 2016, over 2,300 people were shot in Chicago.  During that same period, the police shot 12 suspects, so police shootings constituted about half of one percent of all the shootings in Chicago.  Among all the other problems in the black community—poverty, illegitimacy (74%), high crime, etc.—being shot by the police does not rank as a significant risk.

The hysteria that led to Kaepernick’s protest was, as I noted last year, intentionally and cynically ginned up by the Obama Administration for its own political and ideological purposes.  The Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, led to weeks of violent protest, but Brown was not shot in the back nor after he had raised his hands in surrender.  He was shot when he was charging the police officer—after robbing a convenience store, walking in the middle of the street, and reaching into the patrol car trying to wrest the officer’s firearm away from him.  Yet Kaepernick and several other NFL players seemed to have imbibed the false “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative promoted by the Ferguson rioters. 

None of this is to argue that there are no bad cops and no unjustified police shootings.  There are both.  But they are the exception rather than the rule.  The world is not perfect, and sometimes people who should not be police officers are hired.  It takes time to identify those people; often it takes a series of incidents, or a bad shooting, to weed them out.  When officer misconduct is proven, those officers are fired and sometimes prosecuted. 

But the kneelers and their sympathizers seem oblivious to the fact that uniform-wearing wrongdoers are punished.  A recent article on one of those other Adventist blogs, written by a female Adventist pastor from the UK named Tabitha Purple and entitled “Don’t Shoot the Message,” mentioned the case of Walter Scott.  Scott fled from a routine traffic stop and was shot in the back and killed by Officer Michael Slager.  “Walter Scott was shot in the back,” writes Pastor Purple, “His execution was caught on video, and yet nobody has been held accountable.” 

No one has been held accountable?  Officer Slager was arrested, fired, indicted and tried for murder by the authorities in South Carolina.  His state court murder trial ended with a hung jury but, as often happens when a state prosecution of a police officer fails, the federal government stepped in and charged Slager with a federal crime.  Slager pled guilty to the federal crime in May, and faces 25 years in prison.  Scott’s family filed a civil wrongful death claim against the city of North Charleston, South Carolina, and settled out of court for $6.5 million.  And yet just a couple of weeks ago, Pastor Purple wrote that “nobody has been held accountable” for Walter Scott’s death?

You might say, “well, even if we don’t have a systemic problem with racist police shootings, it never hurts to argue for even more ‘justice’ and more vigilance against police misconduct.”  You would be wrong.  Propagating the myth of racist police shootings has damaged our society and continues to do serious damage.  When people believe that they are being preyed upon by the cops, they want to fight back.  On July 7, 2016, a black man, Micah Johnson, who believed the false myth that cops are killing blacks, assassinated five Dallas Police officers and wounded seven others.  Ten days later, Gavin Long shot six Baton Rouge police officers, murdering three, after telling his mother “somebody has to do something.” 

Police officers are not the only casualties of this myth.  The policing revolution that began in the mid-1990s, and has been lowering crime rates in America—including the homicide rate in the black inner cities—for over two decades, is now being reversed.  In what has been called “the Ferguson Effect,” police in the inner cities, for fear of being called racists, are backing away from pro-active policing.  In 2015, the change in policing practices caused a 17 percent homicide spike in the America’s fifty largest cities, with 10 heavily black cities showing murder spikes above 60 percent.  This increase in the homicide rate translated into 900 more dead black people in 2015 compared to 2014.  Because rich, pampered, and incredibly privileged black athletes like Colin Kaepernick embrace fashionable Leftist causes, poor black people die in greater numbers.  Apparently, black lives don’t matter to Colin Kaepernick and his fellow kneelers.  If they did, the kneelers would stand for the national anthem and stop propagating a vicious lie.

With all due respect to Pastor Purple, I think I will “shoot the message.”  


The Form of the Message

Many commentators have mistakenly characterized this as a First Amendment issue, arguing that the kneelers are exercising their freedom of speech.  But the First Amendment prohibits governmental restraints on speech; it does not prohibit employers from restricting speech in the workplace and during office hours.  Such restrictions are common and are usually upheld by the courts.  You have the right to freedom of speech on your own time and using your own money; you do not have the right to hijack your employer’s place of business to promote your own enthusiasms. 

NFL football is a tightly controlled entertainment product.  What players may wear during games (and often before and after games) is dictated by the league, usually to maximize endorsement revenue so that owners and players can make more money.  We noted that Colin Kaepernick was fined for wearing the wrong brand of headphones to a post-game press conference; he was wearing “Beats by Dre” instead of the brand which had handsomely remunerated the league for its endorsement, “Bose.”

The control extends to clothing or decals on equipment that make a statement or convey a message.  In August, 2016, the Dallas Cowboys asked the league for permission to place a small decal on the backs of their helmets with the words “Arm in Arm,” paying tribute to the five Dallas Police officers slain the previous month.  The NFL refused to waive its strict rules, and denied the request.  Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson reported that an NFL representative told him he would be fined if he wore 9/11 memorial cleats during a league game.  Clearly, the NFL closely monitors and regulates player speech; players do not have the right to send whatever message they feel like conveying at an NFL football game.

But let’s pretend, for purposes of argument, that they do.  Just because you cannot legally be prevented from doing something does not mean you should do it.  You have the right to attend your mother’s funeral wearing a tank top, cargo shorts and flip flops, but you should not exercise that right, because only an idiot would fail to dress appropriately for such an occasion.  Most of life is like that.  Most of what we do is regulated not by the law or by government, but by manners, etiquette, and social conventions.  We voluntarily self-regulate because decent people are expected to act in certain ways. 

Standing for the national anthem and showing respect for the flag fall into that category.  They convey patriotism, or at least deference to our more patriotic countrymen with whom we are gathered at a public event.  In other words, we stand for the national anthem, and place our right hands over our hearts, out of love of country, and even if we do not love our country, we stand and show respect so as not to make a jerk of ourselves in front of everyone else. 

Kneeling during the national anthem tells me two things about the kneeler: (1) he does not love America, and (2) he is such an uncouth boor that he reveals his hatred for his country for all to see.  The lack of gratitude to one’s country is especially troubling in those on whom the country has bestowed its greatest blessings and most rewarding opportunities.  Why should I care what the kneelers think about anything, given that they are ungrateful haters of their country and do not even have the common sense to hide that fact? 

After last year’s disastrous 2 and 14 season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers and chose to become a free agent.  No team hired him this season—he had become both a loser and a troublemaker—and he is out of football. 

The kneeling has, however, been taken up by others.  The current crop of kneelers is more sophisticated and is not protesting police shootings.  A memorandum sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell by four players lists a slate of subtle reforms to the criminal justice system.  The memorandum looks like it was drafted by a lawyer who focus-grouped a positive response to the word “community”:

Our focus has been to identify and place our efforts on the key areas of reform where our influence and support can make a meaningful difference in the community. Those include prioritizing Criminal Justice Reform and Police/Community Relations Engagement. Within those two areas that includes: police transparency/accountability, bail reform, criminalization of poverty, mass incarceration (mandatory minimum sentences, juvenile life parole) and Clean Slate Act, which also includes emphasis on diversion of funds towards community based programs, education and training.

Some of these ideas have merit, most do not.  But I and many other Americans will not listen to any suggestions for criminal justice reform coming from spoiled-brat millionaires who hate their country, or at least act in public as though they hate their country.  The symbols of the nation symbolize the whole nation and the whole people, not just the police or the criminal justice system.  To advocate minor changes to the criminal justice, the kneelers disrespect the entire nation.  Their form of protest is grossly mismatched to the “reforms” they seek. 

If these players really want to use their influence for positive change, they should stand for the national anthem.  Love of country is the foundation for positive, incremental change and reform.  The hatred for country conveyed by the kneelers signals that the nation is hopelessly evil and unjust, which is the justification for radical, revolutionary change along Leftist utopian lines.  That type of change would be a catastrophe.


Lessons to Learn

First, “social justice” is divisive.  If the Seventh-day Adventist Church becomes a “social justice” church, we will stop growing and start shrinking.  Pastor Purple thinks the kneelers have a good message. I do not. These types of disagreements are mostly trivial now, but would become prominent in a church in which the main message is not the historic tenets of Christianity but “social justice.”

Second, it’s time to give up on professional sports.  I’m talking to myself, first and foremost.  I don’t even try to follow baseball, basketball, or hockey anymore.  I’ve learned to appreciate soccer, but not enough to follow a specific team.  But I’ve been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys since the age of seven.  I watched Super Bowl VI at a friend’s house (my family did not own a television in 1972) and saw Bob Lily sack Bob Griese for a 29-yard loss in the Cowboy’s 24 to 3 win over the Dolphins.  I’ve watched all their important games since then, including the four later Super Bowl wins.

But the league has sadly become politicized and corrupt.  Not only are the kneelers repulsive, the owners have caved in to the players, despite having every legal and moral right to force them to stop kneeling.  It’s a case of decadent, unprincipled billionaire owners failing to rein in over-privileged, ungrateful, millionaire players, and neither group cares a whit what the fans think, nor seems to understand how repulsive we find their hatred of country.  It’s time to turn off the television and go do something useful.