San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines for staying seated during the singing of national anthem last week. When asked why he refused to stand, he replied: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” The NFL issued a statement shortly afterward saying that players are “encouraged but not required to stand” during the anthem, but Kaepernick’s protest immediately drew criticism from football fans as well as his fellow sportsmen.
One of Kaepernick’s harsher critics is New York Giants wideout Victor Cruz, who said that while he does not dispute Kaepernick’s right to protest, he would “respect the flag.” The “flag is the flag,” Cruz told reporters. “Regardless of how you feel about things that are going on in America today, and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things of that nature, you’ve got to respect the flag, and you’ve got to stand up with your teammates. It’s bigger than just you, in my opinion… I think you go up there, you’re with a team, and you go and you know you pledge your allegiance to the flag and sing the national anthem with your team and then you go about your business, whatever your beliefs are.”
Although Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response, he told reporters Sunday that he highly encourages players to stand during the national anthem. “I think first off, it’s an important thing for me,” Ryan said. “I think it’s a way of showing respect for the men and women who have served our country and are currently serving our country and that’s kind of how I look at it. But I have and I understand now that there’s some religious beliefs that don’t necessarily allow that.”
Ryan was firm, however. “[But] at the same time, you know, you’ve got to look at the gifts that we have, the opportunity that we have to play a great game is through the men and women that serve our country. I think that’s an opportunity right there just to show respect, and I think that’s why when you see our team, every one of us are on that line and that’s kind of our way of giving thanks.”
Football fans have also weighed in on the controversy––by burning Kaepernick’s jersey. Instagram user nate3914 bought a San Francisco 49ers No. 7 jersey and recorded himself burning it. “People die every single day defending that flag that you refuse to stand for, and I won’t stand for that,” he said in the video. Another man recorded himself saluting, standing at attention and watching Kaepernick’s jersey burn as the national anthem plays in the background. The video went viral.
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