The Making of a Silent Hero: Kaepernick and Social Media

By Gina Ribuca
Student, Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

There was a lot of controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick and the NFL last year. Many of us have seen or heard about him silently taking a knee during the national anthem. We have our own views on the issue. Some are not sure what it was about, while others think they know every detail. What did happen after, however, will never be forgotten. Some people called him a traitor while others, a hero. I think he is closer to a hero than a traitor. Sacrificing oneself to make the world a better place is the soul and characteristic of a hero.

Photo by Gina Ribuca, Kaneohe, HI, 4 July 2017.

The first time I saw him kneel, a lot ran through my mind. Social media was sent into a firestorm, and some of the comments were pure evil. “It’s just so easy to hate,” said Arian Foster, a Miami Dolphins player who also knelt before his game (Walker). Social media played a huge role in the truths and falsifications of this story. So many were clicking “share” on anything connected to Kaepernick before knowing the facts. However, not everyone realized that his silent, solitary protest contributed to the beginning of a worldwide movement among professional athletes and actors. Kaepernick decided to use his media platform to take a stand and to be a voice for those who had none. When a country or its people are ill-served by its government, then the people have the right and obligation to protest. Protesting against the government does not make a person a traitor. No, it means s/he has taken a stand for what she believes is right. 

We need more people like Kaepernick who are willing to take a stand to right a wrong. With the help of social media, he inspired others — from #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter — to also launch protests. Furthermore, these movements eventually culminated in the #METoo movement. The social media firestorm still continues. More celebrities are standing up for those with no voice, taking advantage of the platforms available to them. They are realizing that they can make a difference.

Social media is the new platform for all of us to communicate. Whether we view it as good or bad, we must admit that it is a strong force and played a huge role in amplifying Kaepernick’s protest. The fire is still spreading, thanks to our heroes. My friend, Elena Paishon, agrees. She said, “He risked his reputation, his job, his fans, and even his safety. If this is not heroic, then I don’t know what is.”

It takes a lot of courage to be the voice for many who can’t speak for themselves and to sacrifice oneself for others. We, Americans, are quick to judge those we don’t agree with. We immediately categorize others and justify our actions by seeking attention via “likes” on our social media accounts. In fact, many did not know why Kaepernick took a knee. They also did not know that other players followed for some of the same as well as other reasons. Their lesson is that we can all stand up for what we believe in, whenever and wherever we want. This is America. We can fight for what’s right and still love our country. We can stand for what we believe in and still stand with our soldiers. In fact, our soldiers are also standing for what they believe in. I come from a family with members who have fought in many wars. Fighting for what we believe in is in our blood.

You may not care about the topic Kaepernick was drawing attention to, but it needs to be talked about. All social injustices need to be discussed openly. We, Americans, need to stop deciding which injustices can and can’t be protested. All wrongs need to be discussed, so we can fix the problem together as a country. We need to respect those who share minority views and admire their courage. We need to stop being so easily offended and start being supportive of good causes. All it takes is one person, like Kaepernick, to start a fire that will ignite the masses. He saw a problem affecting Black communities across the country. The brutality was horrible and right in all our faces. And, amazingly, Kaepernick started that fire initially without even saying a word. He did it by quietly taking a knee.

The underlying issue with Colin Kaepernick is a dichotomy: He is either a traitor or a hero. Some view his actions as distasteful, disrespectful, and downright anti-American. They feel he is disrespecting the very soldiers our anthem honors. They say he is horrible and should leave this country if he doesn’t respect it. Others, however, claim he is not disrespecting our men and women in uniform. Each of us must decide which view is right and which view is wrong. It all comes down to how we interpret the facts. In this case, neither interpretation can be considered completely right or wrong.

Those who consider Kaepernick a traitor often resort to the ad populum fallacy, that is, appealing to the supposed prejudices and emotions of the masses. People that feel he is wrong are labeling him a traitor and are encouraging others to follow their beliefs by preying on their emotions as families of soldiers or supporters of our armed forces. They are saying that, by taking a knee, Kaepernick and others are disrespecting them. Needless to say, this was not Kaepernick’s intention.

Here in Hawai’i, we have seen demonstrators flying our American flag upside down to protest the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. We don’t consider them traitors. We understand that they feel oppressed and are expressing their discontent. They are not disrespecting our soldiers, just as Kaepernick was not aiming to disrespect the defenders of our country. The ad populum fallacy is used to support the view that Kaepernick is disrespecting our soldiers and is, thus, a traitor. He may have commented about cops in general, but Kaepernick was focusing his anger and disgust on the ones who are singling out Blacks for brutal treatment. And, believe me, they are out there.

Everyone has the right to stand and share her/his views about what’s right or wrong with America. Our soldiers are sacrificing themselves and fighting to protect this right. It’s our freedom. To be able to live free is to be able to protest and to have different views. Doing either does not make us a traitor. Our country is suffering from many social issues that need attention. To keep shoving them under the rug is wrong. Kaepernick is bringing attention to one of them because he feels that he is in a position to do something about it. President Obama had a very valid point about these underlying issues when he said, “I want (the protesters) to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing.” He added, “But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot” (Polacek).

In my opinion, nothing Kaepernick said was anti-American. He was protesting to draw the people’s attention to a social injustice that is and has been a problem in our country for quite some time. Some may have only seen him as taking a knee, while others saw his actions as a way to stand up for those who have no voice, for those who would not be heard otherwise. He did so peacefully and respectfully. It’s like my friend, Katrina Lamp, said, “Some of Kaepernick’s critics who deem him a traitor say that he is protesting in the wrong way and/or at the wrong time. However, what is the right way and what is the right time?” There is never the perfect time to protest because someone out there will always find a negative way of looking at it.

Photo by Gina Ribuca, Kaneohe, HI, 4 July 2017.

Some believe Kaepernick should suffer consequences for his protest. Well, as of now, I believe he has more than paid his dues and has been punished enough. He has been blacklisted by the NFL and branded a traitor by some. He has lost his career, his dreams, and his good name — all for standing up for what is right or, should I say, for kneeling for what is wrong.

The NFL overreacted. They could have simply fined him for delay of game or whatever else he violated in the contract he signed. The NFL and its owners should not have retaliated so harshly. Not allowing a player the freedom to protest that our soldiers have fought for is turning a blind eye to some of the critical problems in our country. We do not need to be afraid of speaking up to bring attention to an issue. We do not need to be told when or where or how to protest because we may offend others. It’s a protest, and, yes, some people are going to be offended. Still, by exercising our power to protest, we will also feel empowered.

Kaepernick made people feel empowered, and that’s what a true hero can do — empower the masses. Kaepernick did what he could do, and he sacrificed himself to stand for change. I believe anyone who does so to make the world a better place for others is nothing short of a hero. This world needs more heroes.

Works Cited

Lamp, Katrina. “Some of Kaepernick’s Critics.” Laulima Discussion, University of Hawai’i, 15 Mar. 2018. Web. 23 Mar. 2018.

Paishon, Elena. “He Risked His Reputation.” Laulima Discussion, University of Hawai’i, 15 Mar. 2018. Web. 23 Mar. 2018.

Polacek, Scott. “President Barack Obama Defends Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem Protest.” BleacherReport, 28 Sep. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2018.

Walker, James. “Arian Foster Plans to Keep Kneeling During National Anthem.” ABCNEWS. 12 Sep. 2018. “It’s just so easy to hate.” abcNEWS. 12 Sep. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2018.

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