Nike used a black and white photographic close-up of Colin Kaepernick’s face on which is printed: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Many Americans who are also Christian are objecting to Nike’s use of Kaepernick and boycotting the company, but those same veined people have long been opposed to Kaepernick and his followers.
The history of America is packed with individuals who believed in something and were willing to sacrifice for that belief. Yes, we have our Founding Fathers, but what of the less celebrated women and men who helped make this country by their work, inventions, ideas, and writing? What of the families who left the safety and comfort and jobs in the East to walk across the country only to face the Rocky Mountains near the end of their journey? What of the soldiers who silently died so that we would be free to kneel in protest?
Colin Kaepernick took a stand just as Tommy Smith and John Carlos did. Those two young runners believed in something, and they not only were willing to sacrifice everything, they were sacrificed. Smith and Carlos, in an Olympic award ceremony in 1968, silently raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of our National Anthem. They were removed from the Olympic Village and vilified across America for their protest. Kaepernick, almost fifty years later, took a knee during the National Anthem before an NFL game to protest similar injustices in our culture. Before long, he was joined by other players, but he lost his position and salary with the San Francisco Forty-Niners, and it was a long time before another NFL team would sign him to a contract. Colin Kaepernick did what some Americans and Christians do when an injustice is seen—he spoke and acted against it. And, like many before him, he sacrified for his belief. Why would Nike not use his photograph to advertise its products—his act was American and Christian through and through and represents everything that some of us say that we hold dear. Without such courage as Kaepernick exhibited, our country and our Christianity would not be what it is today. Yet, like Smith and Carlos, Kaepernick is viewed as a less than a noble person, even a traitor to the country that has made him famous and wealthy. So many people think that he and others like him should be grateful for what they have and “act like they appreciate this country.”
For me the advertisement by Nike is brilliant because of what it says about belief and action. If, as an athlete, a person believes in herself enough, she will sacrifice much to achieve her goal, and if a Christian American she will sacrifice for her beliefs.
Christians such as Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, and Isaac Backus fought to form our Christian Nation. Mary Dyer had such a belief that she was executed for proselytizing across America. More recently, Dr. King was called a traitor and communist for his battle against racism. Clarence Jordon who followed the Sermon on the Mount bypreaching and living it, was chased off his farm by angry whites. Will Campbell, a white Mississippi preacher, fought against racism. The list of brave Christian Americans is long, but often forgotten.
Kaepernick may or may not be a Christian, but I know he is an American who values the principles of our country. I know this by his action and his courage to stand against the injustices we still have. For me, he is courageous, not disrespectful. He used the one tool he had to fight—his fame as a ball player. By his act of kneeling, he attempted to draw attention to the racism in our country, but so many of us chose not to attack the causes of the act, but to attack the actor. Just as we did with Smith and Carlos.
Today we are like the 1950s member of the Baptist church in Georgia who, after hearing Clarence Jordan preach a sermon, approached him to tell him that her grandfather had fought in the Civil War and she opposed everything Dr. Jordan had said in his sermon. Dr. Jordon looked at the well-dressed Georgia matriarch and said, “Well, ma’ma, you can follow Jesus Christ or your grandfather.”
We Christian Americans, it seems to me, have that same choice over sixty years later.