A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Mike Farrell: Kaepernick’s reason for ‘taking a knee’ has been lost; find it — and find solutions too

Colin Kaepernick’s message has been overshadowed by storms of protest, by social media blasts back and forth and now by an advertising campaign by one of America’s commercial giants.

Could we rewind the tape to the 2016 NFL preseason?

The then-San Francisco quarterback took a knee during the pregame National Anthem. Others around the league soon joined him. Kaepernick said it was a protest against what he called police brutality and social injustice. Two years later, the bitter exchanges continue, with volleys fired and returned, each side trying to out-nasty the other. The patriotism of those who have joined Kaepernick’s protest has been questioned.

Protests are an American tradition as old as the country itself. In 1787, the year the Constitution was ratified, a Massachusetts farmer, Daniel Shays, led 4,000 men in a protest against economic and civil injustices.

Taking a knee.

The lack of a right to vote led to protests by women. An estimated 200,000 people, black and white, gathered in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 to protest against racial discrimination. There were sit-ins at lunch counters. Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus.

The ’60s and ’70s saw numerous protests over our involvement in Vietnam.

The 1968 Democratic Convention turned Chicago into a police-versus-protesters zone. Those of us who watched it on TV still recoil at memories of police wielding nightsticks and reporters being hassled on the convention floor.

No list would be complete without the Boston Tea Party, one of the protests that led eventually to the Revolutionary War. It was not as if they threw a few boxes of Lipton Tea Bags into the harbor. They broke open chests with their hatchets and dumped more than 300 chests filled with tea. Some estimate the value today would be $1,000,000.

Yes, protesting is as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, to quote a 1970s ad. But today, we are subjected to an ad campaign and repulsive insults via social media. But none of it highlights the social injustices to which Kaepernick referred.

Whether you agree with Kaepernick’s form of protest or think he chose badly, it’s time to set that issue aside and listen to his message. Perhaps the NFL teams should find an agency or agencies in their communities and make a huge gift to address some of the social injustices.

The money could be used to improve schools, hire more teachers and install technology in inner city schools. Some of it could be used to make sure children don’t go to bed hungry. More mentoring programs could be started.

A Nike ad

Surely, money could be found to improve police training and for community programs that would address this sharp divide between minorities and police.

Many athletes – professional and college – already invest time and money in the community. One is Kaepernick, whose foundation donated $1 million. Another example is the Dallas Texans’ J.J. Watt, who raised millions for relief after Hurricane Harvey and then spent hours handing out supplies to people who had lost everything.

The pro teams – NBA, WMBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and others – should be putting money into community programs as well, and many of them do. But when I referred to a “huge gift” above, I was thinking in the multimillions.

The donation train should start with Nike. Maybe people would quit burning Nike shoes and slicing swoosh socks.

The focus of Kaepernick’s protest has been lost amid the smog generated by those who criticize the manner of his protest. The time to end this childish squabbling is long past. The time to address the problems is now.

Mike Farrell lives in Covington. He is interim director of the UK School of Journalism and Media, a former Kentucky Post managing editor, and co-founder of the NKyTribune.

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