The Day I Chickened Out on My Colin Kaepernick Moment

kaepernick-poem

This morning the Lexington Herald-Leader published an essay I wrote about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the ritual singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner before games involving his San Francisco 49ers. I had published a longer version of the piece on my blog and on OpEdNews.

Turns out that the Herald-Leader op-ed received more response from Lexingtonians than any of the other editorials I have published in that venue. Most of the comments were quite critical of Kaepernick – and of me.

That doesn’t really bother me. As a matter of fact, it makes me hopeful. It shows that Kaepernick has touched a nerve. Perhaps he has even started a movement. What if all progressives sympathetic to Black Lives Matter (BLM) and unsympathetic to post 9/11Permanent Warfare decided to follow his example? Other sports figures have already begun to do so.

Mind you, it’s not so easy to follow their example. It takes a lot of courage for fans to remain seated during the National Anthem and endure the remarks, taunts, denunciations, and even threats of unthinking “patriots” who (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) still identify the United States as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The evidence I’m thinking of involves not only out-of-control police executions of unarmed African-Americans, but unending wars against impoverished Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. I’m thinking of Fallujah, Haditha, Abu Ghraib – and before that of Vietnam, Laos, Grenada, and Panama. Even before any of that, I’m referring to “War Is a Racket” written  by General Smedley Butler way back in 1935.

With all of that in mind, I am no stranger to the impulse to remain seated during the singing of the National Anthem. I hate the ritual. What does such patriotic display have to do with sporting events? And as I have just suggested, I object to honoring a nation that Martin Luther King identified as the“greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Yet (to my embarrassment) I still cave in to group pressure at sporting events.

The following piece published as a Sunday Homily on my blog a couple of years ago describes the conflict between my higher Christ-inspired impulses and the craven behavior I hope to change in the future thanks to the courageous example of Colin Kaepernick. Can you join me in this aspiration?

As I say, we could start a movement of principled people against hypocrisy.

“I Stood Up”

Recently, between innings
Of a Cubs-Pirates game
At Wrigley Field,
They celebrated a Marine from Iraq –
A local boy
Who emerged from the Cubs’ dugout
Waving
To a hero’s welcome
From a crowd on its feet
Cheering
Between swigs of PBR
As if the poor kid had hit
A game-winning dinger.

Reluctantly I stood up with the rest.

I now regret my applause.
I should have remembered shaved-headed
Brain-washed innocents
Kicking in front doors
Petrifying children
Calling their parents “mother f_ _kers”
And binding tender wrists
With plastic handcuffs.
To rid the world of evil.

Pitiful brainwashed innocents,
They are
Driven to war by poverty
And debt
To HadithaFallujahAbu Grahib,
To weddings transformed in a flash and bang
Into funerals
Leaving mourners shocked and awed –
Collateral Murder,”
By what King called
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world”
And what the Sandinista hymn identified as
“The enemy of mankind.”

I should have remembered
Iraq (and Afghanistan btw)
Were wars of choice,
Of aggression,
The supreme international crime.”

Why did I not recall Zechariah?
(And here come my references to the readings for this Sunday)
And the peace-making Messiah
Christians claim he prophesied.
The prophet’s Promised One would be
Gentle and meek
Riding an ass
Rather than a war horse
Or Humvee
And banishing chariots, cross-bows
And drones raining hell-fire
From the skies.
His kingdom disarmed
Would encompass the entire world.
Refusing to call
Any of God’s “little ones”
(To use our military’s terms of art)
Rag-heads” or “Sand ni_ ggers

Paul called such imperial hate-speech “flesh.”
(Judging by appearances like skin color, nationality, religion)
“Live according to Christ’s Spirit,” Paul urged.
(Compassion for all, works of mercy)
No room for door-kickers there.

I should have remembered Jesus
And his yoke.
So good and light
He said
Compared with
The heavy burdens
The Roman War-makers
Laid on their subjects
Who kicked in Nazareth’s doors
And called parents like Joseph and Mary
“Mother f_cking Jews.”

Their imperial generals were “learned” and “wise”
In the ways of the world
But they piled crushing burdens
On the shoulders
Of those “little ones”
Jesus preferred –
In places far from the imperial center
Like Palestine (or Iraq today).
Victims there might be out of sight
And mind
For those enjoying bread, circuses
Cubs and Pirates,
But not for the All Parent
Described by the Psalmist today
As gracious, merciful, slow to anger, hugely kind, benevolent to all, compassionate, faithful, holy, and lifting up (rather than crushing) those who have fallen under the weight of the burdens Jesus decries.

I should have asked,
If following that Messiah
If worshipping that All Parent
Allowed standing and applauding
A robot returned
From a war
Where over a million civilians have been slaughtered
To rid the world of violence.
(In 1942 would I have joined the crowd
Applauding an S.S. “hero” in a Munich stadium
Just back from the front –or Auschwitz?
Or a pilot who had bombed Pearl Harbor
At a “Wrigley Field” in Tokyo?)

No: I should have had the courage
To remain seated.
And so should we all
Instead of
• Celebrating the military
• Waving flags on the 4th of July
• Paying war taxes
• And wondering with Fox newscasters
What makes America great?

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

5 thoughts on “The Day I Chickened Out on My Colin Kaepernick Moment”

  1. Mike,
    Well said. Thoughtful, provocative and spoken to my sense of justice.
    And so, I agree with your analysis, I empathize with your sense of chickenout-edness at Wrigley field. and I am challenged to do something in hopes of cresting a movement to change the reality – as constructed.
    But…..
    There is this thing niggling at the back of my heart. It has to do with the robotic behavior of the soldier at Wrigley or the same robotic behavior of the hedge fund manager, both obedient to the “Principalities and Powers” that demand their allegiance which convince them that their actions are a matter of life and death. So the soldier kicks in the door in Fallujah, and kills presumptive combative enemies, collaterally damaging to death kids, and other non-combatants, obedient to the myth of the flesh, the hate speech that washed their brains in boot camp, convincing them that if they did not kill they would be killed, or court marshaled, or dis-honorably discharged, all varying degrees of dying. And Ii make the case for the same analysis of the hedge fund manager, obedient to the computerized logarithm that dictates the manipulation of money in order to make more money, mythologized as the supreme value in disregard to the collateral damage, and I would make the case of the collateral mortal damage, to the vital systems of survival (air, water, earth) of the planet. Or of the vitality of the poor joker who is bereft of a job because it can be done by someone overseas for considerably less money.
    (Author’s note: I stick by the ecological example: the money system is killing the planet. I think the analogy limps a bit inn the case of the displaced worker; it is not in the first instance a matter of life and death, probably because I make the case within the money and market story, which assumes that the lose of a job is a matter of life and death. But let me ramble on.)
    A final point is that there is a difference in the Kaepernick action and the situation inn Wrigley field. Kaepernick is protesting against a system, not personified in an individual. At Wrigley field the protest would be against the soldier, an individual person, or in my case of the individual hedge fund manager. In the later two cases, the “evil” of the myth is being scapegoated onto an individual. And this is endemic in our way of thinking. We convict the murderer of murder, we excoriate the pharmaceutical manufacturer for exorbitantly raising the price of a “needed” drug,the drugs will cure you or make you happy or whatever. and in our frame we do not deal with the systemic problem, ie the gun lobby that makes the gun available to the murdered using the myth that guns will protect you, or the drug pusher using the myth.
    Nor is the point to exonerate the soldier for believing in the myth that there are enemies that threaten his life, or the fund manager that there is value in growing the money supply. The soldier is responsible for the consequences of his actions. He did (if he did) in fact kill a non combatant who was not a threat to his life, and he did give his allegiance to a system that justifies such actions. The rub is that he did not do it as freely as we would like to believe when we refuse to stand in his honor. Dare I say that he has, at least partially, been coerced into believing that he should kill a non-enemy, or for that matter that he should kill an enemy. Or to put it anther way, by giving his allegiance, or choosing to believe as true, the myth of the
    other as enemy, or that collateral damage is justified in pursuit if the enemy, and on and on down the rabbit hole of the justifications that the myth provides. Again, and finally, by choosing to be in the frame work or value system of this myth he is dis empowered to be in another myth that does not consider other as enemy, or does not consider that expanding and concentrating the money supply is more important than dispersing the money supply equally.

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  2. As difficult as it can be, I try to separate the “person” from the “policy.” The poor soldier went through a lot doing what he thought was the right thing to do. And he will pay the price, personally, probably for the rest of his life. The degree to which he will pay the price has become clearer to me since I joined the board of Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC (Ft. Bragg), where, in their assistance to soldiers post-deployment, “moral injury” is a recurrent theme in the lives of those they seek to help.

    In the large group situation where you were, I don’t know of a way to separate support for the person vs. support for the policy.

    I do know that people come first. I think you did the right thing.

    “Kaep” has found a way, by kneeling, to separate the two. I hope that catches on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It appears that it is catching on, doesn’t it, Mike. I subscribe to a sports news service called “The Score.” It’s amazing how many of the articles there address Kaepernick’s brave witness. I’m waiting for notices of spectators joining in by remaining in their (our) seats or otherwise protesting during the playing of the National Anthem.

      Liked by 1 person

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