It wasn’t that long ago when the word kaepernicking meant posing for a photo while kissing your flexed bicep. Then Colin Kaepernick sat through the National Anthem as a silent protest against the racial injustices we’ve all seen dominating headlines. Today, kaepernicking has a whole different connotation. The current definition varies depending on your perspective.

For some, it still means showboating. Doing something to bring attention to yourself? You’re kaepernicking. There are many who saw Kaepernick’s protest as a desperate grab for attention. His success as a player is not as great as it once was and he knows his star power is fading. His contract is running short and it is unlikely the 49ers will keep keep him longer than they must. No one cares about Kaepernick any more so he needed to do something to get people talking about him again.

For others, kaepernicking is the new anti-American expression. They see his actions as an unforgivable insult to our military, akin to hippies spitting on soldiers returning home from Vietnam 40 years ago. They think it is disrespecting our flag, it is a stiff upper lip to our country, and a middle finger to all we represent. ‘If he doesn’t like it here,’ they say, ‘he should move somewhere else.’

There are also those who see Kaepernick’s actions as a brave demonstration of our first amendment rights. They believe the cause he claimed inspired his protest is a valid concern an applaud his efforts for using his fame to shine a spotlight on such a pressing issue.

Then there are a few that don’t give a damn one way or another.

Two weeks have passed since Kaepernick’s protest and folks are still debating for and against his silent demonstration. I’ve seen arguments of support from people who can’t stand him and I saw the video of a long-time fan burning a Kaepernick jersey. Critics and advocates all have something to say.

Tomorrow, on the 15th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, the Seahawks have planned a demonstration of unity. As the internet is prone to do, everyone is jumping to conclusions and assuming the whole team will sit out the National Anthem to show support of a quarterback from a rival team. The mayor of DuPont even went as far as cancelling a city rally event to protest the Seahawks possible protest.

Before anyone can get up in arms against the Seahawks, we should take note of a few things. Russell Wilson said he views participation in the National Anthem is an “emotional time” and “truly an honor.” Doug Baldwin said the purpose of the team’s demonstration was “to bring people together” and “will honor the country and flag.” Neither Earl Thomas nor Cliff Avril were aware of what – if anything will happen.

So we do what our culture knows how to do best: yell at each other and preemptively complain about events that may or may not transpire.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion of Colin Kaepernick, regardless of what happens in Seattle before the Seahawks take on the Dolphins, maybe there are conversations we need to have.

To stand or sit or kneel. To sing along or stare into space. Free speech or civic duty. Obligations or privileges. Respect and honor or protest. Difficult decisions or stupid ones.

Perhaps the most important discussion we should hold is if Kaepernick has a point. Let’s forget about his actions for a moment. Does he raise a valid grievance? Are people of color oppressed in America? Are people getting away with murder?

These are not easy questions to answer. Nor should they receive simple responses. The issue of race in America is long and complicated. If I am honest, I am not the best person to provide an answer.

Why not? Because I am the status quo. I am a strait, white, Christian, male. I have never known a time where I was the minority. Asking me to explain what it is like to be oppressed would be like asking a bear what it is like to be a fish. This is a debate in which I have zero first-hand experience.

I do not know what it is like to be a black man in America. But I do have African American friends so I trust their opinions and their experiences.

I have never been a police officer so I don’t know what it is like to be a cop. But I have friends who have worked in law enforcement so I trust their opinions and their experiences.

I never ran for political office so I don’t know what it is like to govern such a fractured society. But I have friends who have served in elected positions so I trust their opinions and their experiences.

There is a lot that I don’t know. But here is what I do know.

There is a fine line between patriotism and jingoism.
America is an awesome nation but it is not a perfect nation.
People are flawed and as long as our governments are ran by people, our governments will also be flawed.
You can still support our troops while recognizing there are injustices happening within our borders.
You can be proud to be an American while pointing out flaws in American culture.
There are other ways to show pride than saluting a flag.
When a presidential candidate is campaigning on the concept that America isn’t great, we should not be surprised when celebrities point out specific examples of what makes our nation less than great.

So let’s talk. And if you – like me – are a member of the majority population, talk to someone that isn’t like you. Talk to people of color. Talk to members of the LGBT community. Talk to immigrants and refugees. Talk to police officers and ex-convicts. Find out what it is like to spend a day in their shoes. Ask them what we can do to make our world better. Maybe if we started doing that a little more, we could motivate Colin Kaepernick to stand again during the National Anthem.

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