Coaches’ Reactions to Colin Kaepernick’s Protest


This article is about the relationship between San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the coaches who are involved, whether by choice or chance. Kaepernick in short chose not to stand for the national anthem. When asked to explain his actions, he stood up and said his piece. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick stated. He continued “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.” Needless to say, these actions caused a visceral reaction from a wide spectrum of the populous.

A review of fact

It must be said that Colin Kaepernick’s constitutionally protected right to protest has been supported for the most part. What about the method chosen? Well, not so much! Kaepernick chose to sit while the national anthem was played before the game. This action was very controversial, very polarizing, and very legal. This action was considered as disrespect to the National Flag. It was also viewed as being disrespectful to US troops serving abroad. There are many questions with regards to the nation’s sudden interest in members of the armed forces. But that’s for another article.

Let’s begin with Chip Kelly

From the jump, the 49ers supported Kaepernick’s right to protest. Head Coach Chip Kelly came out early in defense of Kaepernick’s stance. “We recognize his right to do that,” Kelly said in a media conference call Saturday August 27th. “It’s not my right to tell him not to do something. That’s his right as a citizen.” Kelly is not exactly new to conflicts related to issues of race dating back to his previous job.

Kelly has a history

Kelly was the Philadelphia Eagles head coach. Kelly was accused of racial bias because of his handling of LeSean McCoy, Desean Jackson, and Jeremy Macklin. Wide Receiver Riley Cooper had a dust-up at a Kenny Chesney concert. After an encounter with a black security member, Cooper said “I will jump that fence and fight every [racial slur] here.” To his credit, Kelly kept Cooper on the roster. However, it was tough to explain keeping Cooper and trading Jackson. There’s no comparison with respect to talent and output from both players; Jackson is much better. Eventually Philadelphia imploded and Kelly (who was also the general manager) was fired.

While at the University of Oregonhowever, Chip Kelly invited John Carlos to speak to his team. Remember John Carlos was one of the USA Olympians in 1968 that raised a gloved fist on the medal stand. Carlos, along with Tommie Smith, protested silently while the national anthem played. Raised black gloved fist, with no shoes, Carlos and Smith’s protest is still the most popular medal ceremony ever.

Hockey gets involved

When there’s conflict, there is always the opportunity for sanctimony. The hockey world cup is going to be held in Toronto from September 17th to October 1st. Not so for the head coach of Team USA Hockey John Tortorella. Tortorella, also the head coach for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, couldn’t resist the urge to speak up. Tortorella said “If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.”

Was this really necessary? It must be noted that Tortorella has a son in the military that is currently deployed.

Tortorella refused to waver the following day. He continued in his usual fiery manner in yet another press conference. “I’m not backing off — I’ll tell you right now,” Tortorella said. “Try to understand me. I’m not criticizing anybody for stepping up and putting their thoughts out there about things. I’m the furthest thing away from being anything political. (But) this is your anthem. This is your flag. That shouldn’t come into play for a second.” He continued. “I don’t know what’s being written out there and I don’t care. I feel very strongly of being able to say what you want to say in your way about (being) upset with things. You’re dead on. You have your right to do that. But to bring that flag and anthem into it and drag that down, no way. So I feel strongly both ways.”

Now for the sake of all that’s good and right, I hope Team USA wins. It’s easy to be sanctimonious. Hockey is a sport played predominantly by whites. Or in a city where White people outnumber blacks nine to one.  The First Amendment still exists. Even ESPN personality Stephen A Smith wondered poignantly “if this is the United States of Tortorella?”

College coaches could not resist

Now it’s no surprise that college coaches would have an issue with Kaepernick’s actions. After all, these coaches turn boys into men. They are all about the clichéd existence. Now what’s interesting about these men as that they all profess themselves to be of strong faith in Jesus Christ! But the Christ they serve appears to be unique to them.

Kaepernick’s college coach

At the University of Nevada, Kaepernick played for Chris Ault. Ault is a Hall of Fame coach that recruited Kaepernick. He wrote an op-ed piece for the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper where he outlined his thoughts. “I have no problem with Kap using his celebrity to champion or protest a cause for oppressed people of color. Prejudice unfortunately does still exist in our country,” Ault said. “Although it’s a sword with two edges, it certainly deserves all the attention we can give it in order to rid all Americans of this terrible injustice. However, Kap using an NFL game as his platform to show the importance of his cause was selfish. Not standing up for an American treasure such as the National Anthem is disrespectful and clearly has shortchanged the essence of his message because the attention of an uneasy America is on him, not the cause he values.”

Ault went on to say that he is concerned Kaepernick may lose his career over this. As of the writing of this piece, Colin Kaepernick is still a member of the 49ers. Coach Ault’s fear appears unfounded.

Kaepernick’s first professional coach

Kaepernick was drafted by the 49ers. Kaepernick’s coach was Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh has a reputation for being intense. He made magic with Kaepernick. The two of them led the 49ers to a Superbowl appearance in 2013. They also made it to the conference finals in 2014. Kaepernick and Harbaugh made beautiful music together. At least until the relationship soured and Harbaugh left.

Currently the head coach of the University of Michigan, Harbaugh was not shy when asked about Kaepernick’s actions. “I acknowledge his right to do that. I don’t respect the motivation or the action,” said Harbaugh when asked. Later on twitter, Coach Harbaugh posted “I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments. To clarify, I support Colin’s motivation. It’s his method of action that I take exception to.” Double speech much, Coach Harbaugh?

Then there is Dabo

Dabo Swinney is the head coach of Clemson University. Swinney is known for his religious faith and short-tempered. He did not disappoint. In an eight minute interview described as a diatribe, Swinney went in on Kaepernick.

Here’s an excerpt from The Post and Courier Newspaper dated September 13. ‘On Kaepernick, Swinney said “I think everybody has the right to express himself in that regard. But I don’t think it’s good to be a distraction to your team. I don’t think it’s good to use the team as a platform. I totally disagree with that. Not his protest. But I just think there’s a right way to do things. I don’t think two wrongs make a right. Never have, never will. I think it just creates more divisiveness, more division.”’  He even spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Swinney said, “I think the answer to our problems is exactly what they were for Martin Luther King when he changed the world. Love, peace, education, tolerance of others, Jesus.”

Swinney had a moment of lunacy there. ESPN personality and radio host, Bomani Jones wondered aloud if Swinney “speaks to his black players.” Fellow radio host Dan Lebatard was also questioning Dabo’s motives.

How about Tony La Russa?

Tony La Russa is a highly successful major league baseball manager. His teams were implicated in steroid and performance enhancement previously. This didn’t manage to stop La Russa from being holier than thou on this most controversial topic. Now the Chief Baseball Officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, La Russa waded into these waters when asked about Adam Jones. In interviews with both ESPN and Sports Illustrated, La Russa’s takes were waxing warm to say the least.

In his interview with Sports Illustrated La Russa went all the way in. “I think that’s disrespectful, and I really question the sincerity of somebody like Kaepernick… I never heard him talk about anything but himself. Now all of a sudden he’s struggling for attention and he makes this big pitch. I don’t buy it. And even if he was sincere, there are other ways to show your concern. Disrespecting our flag is not the way to do it.”

On ESPN’s The Lebatard Show with Stugotz, La Russa was even better or worse. “I was there in the Bay Area when he first was a star, a real star. I never once saw him do anything but promote himself. And all of a sudden now he’s a second-stringer and he’s got this mission … and I just don’t trust his sincerity,” La Russa said. “And even if he was sincere, there’s ways to express your belief in some of the issues that face blacks around this country without disrespecting the country you live in or the flag that it represents.”

When asked if he was the manager or coach of Kaepernick how would he handle it. Surprisingly La Russa said, “I would tell [a player that wanted to sit out the anthem to] sit inside the clubhouse,” La Russa said. “You’re not going to be out there representing our team and our organization by disrespecting the flag. No, sir, I would not allow it. … If you want to make your statement, you make it in the clubhouse, but not out there. You’re not going to show it that way publicly and disrespectfully.”

Asked if he’d let Kaepernick to play, La Russa replied. “No, he’d play the game, but he wouldn’t be out there sitting down,” La Russa said. “He’d go in the locker room and make his protest.”

Coaches are autocrats by nature

Coaches noted in this piece all expressed understanding for Kaepernick’s protest.  They don’t support the method. Tortorella stated there must be a better way. Harbaugh echoed similar sentiments along with La Russa.

However Dabo Swinney had a suggestion. Swinney said, “Some of these people need to move to another country. Some of them need to move to another country.” He continued, “I think there’s a better way,” Swinney said. “How about call a press conference? Express your feelings. Everybody will show up, talk about it.”

So to be clear

Coaches, like a large cross section of the populous, suggest Kaepernick not use the anthem as a protest tool. Well okay, never mind that there are questions surrounding the origins of the anthem and its writer Francis Scott Key. He broke absolutely no laws. Kaepernick broke no rules. How does not standing for the national anthem show disrespect to the troops?  That question has gone unanswered. Must members of law enforcement be viewed above reproach? Also, not answered.

What is the purpose of protest? The purpose is to bring awareness to a particular issue. Protests throughout the world and even here in the USA have often become violent in nature. This is not evident in this case.  So to simply say, “don’t disrespect the flag” is being intellectually lazy. Dr. Morgan Job in Trinidad would call it “intellectual masturbating.”

Alternative Suggestions

Make a statement like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade. That’s acceptable because everyone has plausible deniability. Be like Michael Jordan in the 1990s and Tiger Woods in the 2000s. That’s even better. Make no noise, know your place.

Final thoughts

Kaepernick’s protest is working. The anthem controversy has the nation talking. Colin Kaepernick effectively ripped the band-aid off of the deep wound of racism and inequality in this country. Kaepernick forced the nation to individually think about racial inequality and that is not very comfortable. But what is the real purpose of protest? To have others feel uncomfortable. The use of the blatantly diversionary tactic of “it’s the method, not the message” shows and proves the discomfort. There must be a better way, and there is, stop the latent and sometimes overt acts of racism. All Kaepernick and the others that support his stance is begging for is “liberty and justice for all.”

Just as a side, Megan Rapinoe knelt for the playing of the national anthem as a member of Team USA. Rapinoe is a member of Team USA Women’s National Soccer Team. The team played a friendly match against Thailand in Columbus Ohio on September 15th. Tortorella may have a few words for Rapinoe, or Coach Jill Ellis.

In closing, not all coaches opposed the stance by Kaepernick. Bill Bellichek of the Patriots had no issue with Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett raising a gloved fist. For Miami, four Dolphins led by Arian Foster knelt for the anthem. At Seattle, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll locked arms with his players in a show of “solidarity.” It was the same thing with Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Gary Kubiak of the Broncos had no issue with Brandon Marshall taking a knee for the anthem either.


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