The San Francisco 49ers quarterback explained in an interview,
"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."
I immediately applauded Kaepernick for using the art of protest to spark a national dialogue. People are dying. We are in the eye of a cultural crisis in America.
Kaepernick put endorsements at risk and clearly angered many. Some complained he was anti-American. On the contrary, I thought his action was pro-American, following in the tradition of Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Protest is an American right, which Colin peacefully exercised.
But here is where Kaepernick lost me: His remarks to the press segued into a rant of the type you hear from the conservative right. He said: "I mean, you have Hillary who's called black teens or black kids super predators. You have Donald Trump who's openly racist. I mean, we have a presidential candidate [Hillary Clinton] who's deleted emails and done things illegally and is a presidential candidate. That doesn't make sense to me, because if that was any other person, you'd be in prison."
To lump Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the same category is wrong, offensive and uninformed. Trump isn't even in the same category as former President George W. Bush or former Vice President Dick Cheney. Donald Trump isn't a Republican or even a conservative. He's a rich, famous alleged businessman who has money to burn and a disturbing case of narcissism.
It's irresponsible for Kaepernick to insinuate that Clinton should be in jail, with words that skirt close to the shouts of "Lock her up!" from the crowd during Gov. Chris Christie's remarks at the Republican National Convention. After months of investigations into whether charges should be brought against Clinton for her use of a private email server, the FBI director James B. Comey said,
"Our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."
I believe the FBI knows more about Clinton's emails than Kaepernick. [Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article included the sentence "We should trust the FBI," which the writer had not intended to include.] In addition, Clinton has owned her mistakes. Donald Trump owns nothing; he believes he is flawless, appearing to make grudging concessions of regret (only once) as a feint when bringing on a new team to revive his campaign.
I have been critical of many of Hillary Clinton's positions. However, she knows she is not above critique. During the primaries, she was protested by Black Lives Matter. Her response? She didn't encourage violence and then offer to pay medical bills for people who threw punches, like Trump; she met with representatives of Black Lives Matter.
From the start of her campaign, she has offered a detailed plan on criminal justice reform
. And while some people accuse her of pandering when she talks to any African-American, there is much evidence to the contrary. Clinton has repeatedly reached out to the black community. She has spoken to black media outlets and talked about African-American issues to African-American audiences.
Trump's pitch to African-Americans? "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed -- what the hell do you have to lose?"
Kaepernick referenced her 1996 comment "super predators." Sadly, he quoted her as falsely as Donald Trump did. She didn't specifically call black teens or black kids super predators. She was referencing gang culture, but many interpreted the term as racially coded language. I agree, and I despised the term.
Nonetheless, Clinton apologized for the words
she used 20 years ago that didn't receive mainstream press until she was running for President. Trump won't even directly apologize for an insulting or bigoted comment he made a week ago.
Additionally, African-Americans have held the Clintons accountable for years. It's a myth that African-Americans blindly supported the Clintons. In 1996,
African-American turnout bottomed at only 53%, the lowest it had been since President Jimmy Carter in 1976.
The African-American community is not a robotic voting bloc. Cornel West, Michelle Alexander, Marc Lamont Hill, Melissa Harris-Perry and other thought leaders have been deeply critical of Hillary, but with nuance. Hillary Clinton has worked for the black vote.
Colin Kaepernick, I want to tell you something: I am a black man who lives in a black and predominately immigrant neighborhood. I, my friends, my family and my neighbors cannot afford a Trump presidency. Our very being would be at risk -- on issues from health care to immigration, to the right to marry to the makeup of the Supreme Court and all that would portend.
Although Kaepernick is a person of color and has experienced prejudice, he sits in a space of economic privilege -- a man who signed a multimillion dollar contract in 2014
. Yes, he is entitled to his opinion, as am I. But is he seriously claiming Trump and Clinton are the same? Trump has said things that I've never heard from a Republican nominee in my lifetime. This is not a standard election. The safety and morale of our country are at stake.
It takes time to grow into activism. There is space for him to evolve and learn. His intentions were clearly genuine. While Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem was profound, his words about the Democratic nominee were disappointing and, quite frankly, misguided.
Colin, your voice is needed. Please don't encourage anyone to bench their vote. We cannot let Trump become president. This is not the football field. This is not a game. You are blessed to live in a world where your livelihood is protected, but for the rest of us, we can't endure a President Trump.