This is a volunteer army where these young people stand up when a nation calls. They don’t get into debates about the politics, how we are going to pay for it, who’s right or who’s wrong.

They simply say, “send me, send me.”

So I understand and feel tremendously the significance and importance of the National Anthem, not withstanding the second stanza and third stanza and some of the stuff that comes up.

But I also understand the back side of that. These young people are sacrificing their lives, their limbs.

They’re doing this so that we in this country will continue to have the right to protest for right and that is what Kaepernick was doing.

And if the words of the National Anthem – freedom and justice for all – are just words, it’s not so much that we’re persecuting Kaepernick if he can’t come back into the NFL, but rather this is an affront to those young people that I was standing with at West Point.

It’s an affront to that young man who was buried, while I was there giving a lecture on diversity and recruitment and its importance both in sports and in the military.

So to look at what Kaepernick is doing and saying, “Yeah I agree with what he said. I understand what he’s saying but not during the National Anthem. Many of those same people would feel the same way, just as negatively toward him, if he was taking a knee in Times Square during the playing of chopsticks.

Basically what they’re saying is, “I don’t want to hear anything about the circumstances and conditions and so forth of African-American people. Of women. Of poor folks as far as that’s concerned. I want to come out and see a football game and after the game sit down, shut up and get on with your life. You are making a lot of money.”

Kaepernick believed more in this country than that.

He believed more in the American people than that.

He believed that as a nation and a society we are better than that. And I understand that feeling, that sentiment, that drive.

From the time that I began to hear these things about what happened in St. Louis in 1917, from the time that I saw that picture of Emmett Till, from the time that I met with Malcolm X only to see him shot down, met with Dr. King only to see him shot down, preparing posters and so forth for a candidate who said the Vietnam War is wrong and seeing him shot down, from the time of my 21st birthday on November 22nd, 1963, I realized that in this country the price of trying to move things ahead of public office could be your life right on up until this past month.

I would much have rather that that man that went to that Republican-Democrat softball game, rather than going out there and shooting that Congressman, I would have much rather that he would just walk down to the sideline and took a knee and said, “You know what we’ve got to move stuff ahead in the Congress.”

We’d all have been better off.

What Kaepernick has done is to contribute to that conversation that has been ongoing that the Carna Commission call for in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, which is a open, honest conversation about race and racism and inequity and injustice and who and what we are as a nation.

That’s what Kaepernick’s transgression has been.

“And if there’s no room for him in the NFL, then don’t tell me anything about the integrity of the shield.”

I don’t want to hear that anymore. I don’t want to hear it from Roger [Goodell]. I don’t want to hear it from the owners. I don’t want to hear from the people that they have sitting at the desk. I don’t want to hear it from anybody until they can tell me, until they can explain to me, why [there isn’t room for someone] who takes a knee and says to the playing of the National Anthem, just as surely as this is the land of the free and the home of the brave with freedom and justice for all, we’re better than this.

Catch the full conversation here


Harry Edwards is an American sociologist and civil rights activist. He completed his Ph.D. at Cornell University and is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.