What is freedom?


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Colin Kaepernick (7) has been making headlines for the silent protest he has been taking part in during opening NFL games. He has elected to not stand during the National Anthem. This has started a national debate on freedom and the meaning of the flag.

Joshua Patternson, Opinion Chief

Normally at the beginning of the National Football League seasons sports fans are talking about fantasy football or giving ludicrous predictions for their own personal team.

Instead, the sports world is divided on the protest taken by Colin Kaepernick, the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

Kaepernick has decided to kneel during the National Anthem at the beginning of games, in protest to the inequality he feels is being place on African-Americans in this country.

Now an African-American athlete largely supported by a white audience is being demonized because he believes that he should “stand with the people that are being oppressed.” This has put him in the middle of a fire storm about the flag, its symbolism, and the very principles this country was founded upon.

The United States is a country predicated on the idea of freedom. Many people preach about freedom of speech and freedom of expression. However these same people are the ones angry with Kaepernick for protesting.

We as a society cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that it is a good thing to be free to express opinions and feelings, but criticise those that do just that.

Some that disagree, bring up the fact that it is during the National Anthem. “Why bring the flag into it” or “People died for the flag, now you’re disrespecting it” have been common responses by fans as well as members of the media.

I am no expert when it comes to the armed service. I have never served and I do not pretend to know about serving, but from what little that I know, people who serve the flag, serve because it stands for the freedoms that we enjoy in this country. It is a symbol of equality and a symbol of freedom.

At the same time, I am also not an African-American. I have no idea what they go through on a regular basis just because of the color of their skin. If the flag is a symbol of equality and freedom, they should also have those same rights.

Also, if you do not believe in a symbol or what it stands for, then you should protest it. If you feel an injustice is taking place or freedom is being hindered then use the freedom that this country is built on to protest it.

It then behooves me to understand how people do not want Kaepernick to use his freedom.

If we as a society are truly about freedom and equality, then we would not have problems with people who utilize their ability to protest. Who made you or anyone the morale decider of what protest is worthy and what is not?

How can we tell Kaepernick that what he is protesting is somehow not allowed, when our country is built on the ideas he is exercising.

In any divide or issue, there always needs to be a discussion of the problem. Both sides need to have a conversation about how to solve it. However in today’s America that conversation is not happening.

The country is experiencing more racial unrest than any time in the last couple decades. This is a time where many African-Americans do not feel equal in the eyes of society and the law. Why should we then be mad at someone for attempting to start a conversation about the issue?

Kaepernick has started a national conversation that seems to die off after each tragic police shooting. His protest has shifted the conversation back to change that needs to take place, which is what every protest is about.

Instead of talking the talk, he is walking the walk. He is not only risking his reputation around the league, and his livelihood to stand up for what he believes in, but is actually donating millions of dollars to a cause that he believes in, when it comes to the black lives matter movement.

Is that not the definition of patriotism?

Our founding fathers stood up against the British in order for change to occur. How than can we say that Kaepernick standing up for what he believes is then a lesser cause?

Albert Einstein once said, “Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.”

Instead we have a former player Trent Dilfer calling him “selfish” and Donald Trump suggesting that he should “find another country”.

Kaepernick’s critics chastise him for being unpatriotic and disrespectful, and while doing that miss the point. Our nation is only as strong as our citizens, and our opportunity to change is only as strong as the will of those citizens.

Patriotism is not just getting sentimental during war memorials or on the fourth of the July. It is supporting what those things symbolize and represent.

The flag is not the sole symbol of the military or patriots. People have supported this country, as well as criticised it while holding the American flag. It is their right to do so, and questioning that right takes away from the point of the protest.
The flag is not the end all be all. The flag is a powerful symbol, yes. But it is what the flag represents that really sets America apart from other countries.

Instead of complaining about when Kaepernick protests, maybe we as a society should spend more time focusing on the words behind the protest.

Ot maybe we should stop pretending. Stop pretending that we are ok with freedom of expression, and the freedoms that come with the flag. If we cannot allow a young black athlete to speak up on an issue that is dividing our country at its very core, then how can we call ourselves “the land of the free”?

Kaepernick’s stand, or lack thereof, has illuminated not only how we still have fundamental disagreements about racial inequalities, but how we also have differences in how we view freedom.

Freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Freedom is unconditional.

If this is true, then how come we want to put a condition on Kaepernick’s freedom. “You can protest, just not during the National Anthem” is a condition. We need to either come to grips with the fact that this protest is a founding principal of America, or we need to change to “the land of the conditionally free”.