Football and the Curious Contagious Case of Colin Kaepernick

Football and the Curious Contagious Case of Colin Kaepernick



When a name of a football player is brought up, words like animated, adept, and electrifying might come to mind. Those words were probably used to describe Colin Kaepernick, a million times before. However, that would change almost overnight after his daring attempt to bring awareness of unjust actions in America. The football player’s case was curiously contagious as thousands rallied behind his stance for justice.

On Aug. 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers’ Kaepernick would change the sport of football forever. Fans and foes flooded social media sites with comments to express their disdain or love for the football quarterback. By Saturday morning, swarms of negative quotes had poured into social media sites.

Facebook and Twitter were ablaze and became headline news when the football player refused to stand during the national anthem. After the football game, Kaepernick humbly did an interview explaining his position, stating the following:

I choose not to stand up [at the football game] illustrate pride in a flag for a nation that persecutes African-American people and people of color. For me, this is much bigger than just football, and it would be self-centered of me just to pretend it does not exist. There are bodies in the street and people getting compensated for it and just getting away with murder.

The curious case of Kaepernick, in regards to the national anthem, did not develop overnight. In fact, in building the football quarterback’s case, it would have to go back to 1814, to a man named Francis Scott Key.

What Does Francis Scott Key Have to Do With Football?

Key authored the national anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which is played before a football game. He was a lawyer and son of a judge from Georgetown. He was a third-generation American. His great-grandfather was born in London and then immigrated to America in 1726.

The author was a supporter of President Jackson who nominated him for United States Prosecutor for the District of Columbia in 1833. He was recognized for his toughness and fierceness in the courtroom. Key was also known for prosecuting Richard Lawrence for his failed endeavor to murder President Andrew Jackson.

However, the courtroom was not the only place where he was passionate. During the War of 1812, he wrote a poem about his experience that would one day divide this country racially.

Apparently, it was not the ‘Oh, say can you see, By the dawns early light’ that would spark this controversy, but twenty verses on down in the third stanza written by Keys:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave: And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

According to NBC News, Key was a slaveholding attorney from an old Maryland homestead family. He bought his first slave in 1801. In 1820, he owned a total of six slaves. It does not appear to be a secret that from 1833-40, he utilized his position to passionately protect slavery.

Nevertheless, in 1931, before the national anthem became official and proclaimed the nation as “the land of the free.” However, not every one would see it that way. The football player, Kaepernick is one of them. He is joined by many African Americans with the same opinion. For most of them, freedom is a bit of a stretch, considering hundreds of years of oppression that many African Americans still face today.

Home of the Oppressed

For many African Americans, there is not much of a warm-and-fuzzy feeling when it comes to the flag. In their eyes it is not about being unpatriotic, rather it is about being unnoticed and unwanted.

There is no doubt that citizenship was unmistakably given to African Americans, in 1868, with the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. In spite of that, it would be another 100 years before African Americans were rendered complete safety under the law. Between 1868 and 1967, there would be the following ineffective Acts passed:

  • The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to “free white persons.” The Act excluded slaves and free blacks.
  • The 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in Southern states.
  • In 1865, the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery. However, it did not, award rights of citizenship.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was proposed to end discrimination but was not often enforced.

The football player does not appear to be the first athlete to protest the flag. Jackie Robinson, the first black professional baseball player, caught the curious contagious case of activism after saying the following famous lines:

I am not able to stand and hum the national anthem. I cannot acknowledge the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.

Robinson was a treasured baseball forerunner, and civil rights liberal, penned this in his 1972 life story, “I Never Had It Made.”

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two American Olympic runners, raised their fists as the anthem played in a black power salutation. They protested during the medal awards at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Additionally, the movement seems to continue in 2016, among the youth but not without a cost.

The Rise of the Youth

The Kaepernick case was not only contagious among NFL players, but also the Garfield High School football team in Seattle, Wash. Players and coaches kneeled during the national anthem to protest “social inequalities.”

In Philadelphia, Pa., Woodrow Wilson High School football coach Preston Brown, mentioned to his players before the season opener that he planned to take a knee once the national anthem started. Everyone except two of them contributed to the protest.

A high school football team in Oakland, Calif., took things a step further, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played. Many of the athletes laid on their backs with their hands raised in the air.

Meet Shirley Isham

One woman who refuses to catch the football players’ contagious anti-patriotic stance is Shirley Carole Isham. This native of Longview, Texas, is Key’s descendant. “It just made me really uneasy to think that someone that gets paid millions of dollars a year playing a [football game], who is half white himself would even think about doing this.” The Texas native said the football player’s constitutional privilege to rally was pointless.

“It’s too much for me to watch,’’ Isham said. It bothers her to see the football quarterback sit there and dishonor the flag and the national anthem while soldiers are dying.

Other descendants of Francis Scott Key say the opposite. Suzanne Key Boyle Herrmann has no problems standing with the football player.

“He is exercising his constitutional rights,” said Herrmann, Isham’s second cousin, who lives in Morristown Township, N.J. “All the football quarterback has done was spark awareness and conversation about the issues involving equality and rights.”

Even though the anthem was written 202 years ago, it has sparked a new revolution. The football player was the forerunner of a new movement, while a crusade of youngsters has caught the curious case of Kaepernick.

By Jomo Merritt
Edited by Cathy Milne


WSBTV ATLANTA: Francis Scott Key descendant slams Colin Kaepernick for national anthem protest
NBC News: OpEd: Colin Kaepernick and the Racist History of Our National Anthem
USA Today: Descendant of national anthem songwriter rips Colin Kaepernick

Image Courtesy of keijj44’s Pixabay Page – Public Domain