Associated Press

Bethel reacts to Kaepernick’s sit-down stand

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The sports social media scene has a new hero and a new scapegoat, and as usual, they share a name. The culprit this time is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s name is pretty much a household name in any sports fan’s home right now due to his rather controversial choice to stay seated while the national anthem played during a pre-season game. His reason for doing so is that he felt he could not honor a song nor “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Kaepernick’s stand to stay seated has caused massive backlash on social media, with political cartoons being drawn over the issue as well as professional speculation on whether or not Kaepernick will continue his protest in future games. So how does this affect Bethel? The Bethel Beacon talked with associate professor of communication Theo Williams and associate professor of history Dave Schmidt, as well as a few students to get their takes on the Kaepernick sit-down. “My initial reaction was, I was going to be interested to see everyone else’s reaction,” said Williams. Williams said that this issue seems to have taken a front seat in the public eye, citing the social media spark ignited when Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas failed to stand at attention and place her hand over her heart during the 2016 Rio Olympics. I asked Williams if he felt that Kaepernick’s stand was the right thing to do. His response was that it wasn’t his place to say whether or not it was. “He did something he felt he needed to do, and we can comment on maybe the outcry or things of that nature, but right or wrong, I think that’s too simplistic to say whether it was right or wrong. And maybe time will tell,” he said. Williams said that athletes have taken stands and people said they were in the wrong, but then years later those same athletes receive awards and congratulations for what they did. “I think the verdict is still out, and I think if some people think that’s wrong, what he’s done, they have that right. If some people think that what he did was right in regards to what he was trying to accomplish, they have that right. So I don’t think it’s a clear-cut right or wrong answer.” “There is a long tradition of folks taking stands like that,” said Schmidt. “It certainly isn’t unusual or in some ways unexpected.” When I asked if he felt the protest was justified, Schmidt said he did, “marginally so.” “I get the point, I understand,” he went on. “I suspect that it’s kind of a rolling concern if he said ‘I’m doing this until something happens.’ The chances there’ll be something else, and something else and something else. So probably isn’t going to be something that American society will ever satisfy, if that’s his true beliefs.” Schmidt said he believes that Kaepernick’s issue goes beyond even the recent events regarding racial issues with law enforcement. “I think he believes there’s something fundamentally unfair about the United States, and that the United States is uniquely unfair. Yeah, there might be a point, a nice discussion 'is America unfair?'…[but] is it uniquely unfair? He needs to get out more. He needs to travel.” I also talked to Bethel College's student council vice president Asia Dennard about her reaction. “When I first heard what he did, I was a little confused, because I didn’t see how him sitting down was helping the oppressed,” she said. “Just because, I feel like there are so many things that are wrong with America, and if you decide to sit down because one thing’s wrong with America, you’ll be sitting down for a really long time. So at first, I was a little apprehensive, I didn’t really understand. But once I looked more into it, I became more understand of why he was sitting down.” Dennard said that after she became more aware of Kaepernick’s cause, she felt that he was doing the right thing. She mentioned the gravity of his laying his career on the line for his beliefs. “Every person is here to change something, every person is here for a reason. And if that’s his reason why he wants to sit down, I feel like that’s a really good reason,” she said. I also talked to Morgan Spiess, a senior psychology major, on her feelings on the subject. “I guess I try to keep an open mind on these things,” she said, “because I have a very limited worldview I guess. In general, I see when someone’s trying to protest something and raise awareness that needs to be raised. I don’t know if that’s the way to do it.” Spiess, like Williams, said that she doesn’t feel that there really is a right or wrong to what Kaepernick did. “If we forced everybody to stand for the national anthem, [then] you’re taking away somebody’s freedom to not. And America’s all about the freedom and about your right to not. So I think it would be wrong if we were saying that everybody has to.” Schmidt spoke a little about the trouble with protests in the modern age of social media. He said that he doesn’t feel that people are overreacting in the same sense that Kaepernick wasn’t overacting. But he did speak about the consequences of taking a stand. “I think the trouble we have these days is that people want all the credit for courageous stands but to bear none of the consequences,” he said. Schmidt drew an interesting parallel to the 1967 Supreme Court case of Clay vs. United States, in which heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, then named Cassius Clay, applied to be a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War for religious, among other, reasons. Clay did receive support, but he also received backlash. Schmidt expressed that a protest is going to have consequences no matter what. Williams spoke about his view on this social media debate. “I think the reactions are appropriate on both sides,” he said. “I can understand the reaction of those who disagree with his stance, I can understand the reaction of those who find it offensive, who find it disrespectful. Likewise, I can understand the reaction of those who say, ‘wow, he took a stand, he said or did what some other people wanted to say or do, just didn’t.’ That’s the very nature of dissent in America, that’s the very nature of protest. It will cause people to choose sides. If not necessarily choose sides as far as engaging or not engaging the protest, but the very least choose sides in the conversation, where they fall in the conversation…I think the comments we’re receiving along those two lines are both par for the course.” Williams said that he thinks the only comments that are problematic are comments that criticize Kaepernick beyond his message and methods and start using racial slurs attacking him as an individual. Williams said that he finds it ironic that people who say that racism isn’t an issue and that Kaepernick’s stand wasn’t justified will then in the next line refer to him with a racial slur. “I would call them least productive in one sense, because name calling and being racist is not productive. [Kaepernick] may think it’s productive, because in some ways it validates his issue, that racism is still a problem in America,” he said. As for if this has any deeper significance, Dennard said that time will tell. “I think it depends on the rest of the people who are upset about the oppressed,” she said. “I think it’s now their time to make the next move. Are they going to just here [and say] ‘oh, that’s cool. He’s sitting down for us?’ or are they going to take stances like his too?” Williams said that he feels it depends on whether or not Kaepernick will continue his protest. “I would say that in today’s media, based upon how fast things can travel, not only do the fires start quickly, it’s like they go out quickly also. And so I think the answer to that question will really be what he does next.” Spiess had less faith in the long-term effects of this protest. “I think that somebody else will do something that’s going to cause a lot of outrage in the next couple days and, honestly, we’re all going to forget about it,” she said. Schmidt said that while the spotlight is currently on Kaepernick for his stance, he will be surprised if the quarterback becomes a major figure in the conversation of racial recognition. Spiess and Dennard spoke briefly on how they feel this has affected them personally as well. “It definitely makes me think,” said Spiess, “and it makes me realize how I probably don’t really have a solidified view of the issue of violence against minorities. I know what I see on the news or what [I] read, but you have to take all that with a grain of salt. Dennard said, “I think it kind of did impact me, just because it’s good to see that not every person is like ‘no, these things don’t happen to you. No, you’re not oppressed. You’re just making that up.’ He’s actually taking the time, and putting himself in a minority’s shoes, and I think that not many people do that.” So will Kaepernick’s impact stick around? It looks like we’ll have to keep an eye on the ball for this issue.
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