Co-Editor In Chief
Buffalo tailgates have developed a reputation of being ridiculous in recent years. From body slamming tables ala WWE to getting into all-out, drunken brawls in the parking lots, Bills fans have become internet sensations courtesy of their pregame antics. I mean hey, I’d be doing some pretty crazy things if I had to live in Buffalo, too.
But this past weekend against the San Francisco 49ers, Bills fans took their pregame festivities to a darker level. With 49ers quarterback and outward protester Colin Kaepernick coming into New Era Field, Bills fans took to “action.”
Several shirts depicting Kaepernick were sold for $10 pregame. Some showed Kaepernick kneeling with a rifle scope hovering over him, while others read ‘Stand up and shut up Kaeperdick.’ Keeping with the nature of football, some fans made a Kapernick dummy, using it as a kickboxing target, with a Kaepernick jersey and an afro wig. Fans chanted ‘tackle the Muslim’ while others speared the dummy like a linebacker blind-side hitting a quarterback. In most videos floating around social media, American flags can be seen waving in the background.
Mind you, these fans sporting shirts asking for Kaepernick to be shot are the very people saying that the 28-year-old has no reason to kneel during the National Anthem.
Now before I continue, I feel the need to emphasize that the Buffalo fans are not outliers, terrifyingly enough. From the real world to the internet, Kaepernick has seen an outpouring of backlash since his original protest back in August during the pre-season.
He hasn’t been able to escape this backlash, and his protest has sparked many others on all levels of sports. His start against Buffalo was his first of the season, and the attacks from opposing fans were some of the worst we’ve seen all season. He’ll start once again this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he may be able to escape some of the fan outrage in the confines of his home field. But two weeks following, on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, opposing fans could be back at it again.
Everything from the physical opposition to the tweets, think-pieces, and comments on the web have yet to slow down Kaepernick or his cause. In fact, it’s safe to say it’s only proved why Kaepernick needs to kneel.
Kaepernick isn’t kneeling out of disrespect to the military, despite what many unfortunately think. He’s made that clear multiple times, saying, “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country.” (via The Nation)
He continued, “This country isn’t holding up their end of the bargain.” That one sentence, in essence, is the basis behind his stance. The institutional racism which many have become blind to or overlooked is the reason Kaepernick kneels during the National Anthem.
The opposition to his protest has been filled with the cliches of “if you don’t like this country then leave,” which is almost laughable to some extent. Kaepernick and others are protesting to raise awareness for the way people of color have been treated – almost as if they don’t belong,
So don’t calls for Kaepernick to ‘leave the country’ only highlight his cause? It’s okay to disagree with what Kaepernick stands for or does – that’s the nature of protest, to be able respond with a protest of your own.
However, telling him to leave the country for his criticism of it seems to go against everything that every flag-waving, blue-blooded American citizen holds close to their heart: the gift of free speech.
It’s a lot of hypocrisy, really. One group pleads that there is nothing wrong with America, while another clearly oppressed group adds that there is. The first group then tries to shut down the thoughts, beliefs and actions of the latter group, often claiming that there is no reason to feel oppressed.
Is that not oppression? That is, the act of trying to shut down someone’s thoughts and beliefs. As this Kaepernick saga has unfolded, there’s been a wide mix of responses. He of course has his fair share of supporters and people disagreeing with him, or the manner of his protest. But there’s an equal amount of irrational and illogical people who believe he has nothing to protest.
Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than Kaepernick kneeling for people to understand their own ignorance. There will continue to be the t-shirts, the anti-religious games played before sporting events and the evergreen death threats on Twitter.
All of these threats and hurtful actions don’t beat down Kaepernick’s cause; it only fuels his narrative. With each shirt worn and racist tweet sent, it’s becoming clearer why Kaepernick protests – and why he’ll continue to protest.