Remember when Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem of a football game? What started as Kaepernick’s way to speak out against social injustice and police brutality quickly turned into a national debate whether Kaepernick was anti-American.
The next day, questions regarding Kaepernick’s respect towards military and law enforcement began to rise. The more popular the act became, the more disrespect was thrown Kaepernick’s way.
So, how could something intended to be meaningful become so misunderstood?
To start, most people disapproved of Kaepernick’s decision to protest during the national anthem. Calling it “disrespectful” and “insulting” to military personnel. Others disliked the fact the 49ers quarterback held his protest near popular military base Camp Pendelton, and that the Chargers were holding their annual “Salute to the Military” night. Most, however, only found the protest an issue because of the upcoming 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
As a professional athlete, Kaepernick is given a grand stage to express his values and opinions. His decision to protest during a nationally televised game was smart for the sake of gaining attention from the media, but the timing of his protest created an alternate story bigger than his cause.
Let’s compare Kaepernick’s protest to another recent protest by athletes.
In 2014, phone call recordings were released, exposing former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, of making racist remarks. The athletes on the Clippers took it amongst themselves to hold a silent protest against Sterling. The Clippers gathered at center court to remove their warm-up shirts and replaced them with inside-out red shooting shirts that did not have the Clippers logo.
The protest picked up immediate coverage and gained support from basketball legends around the league. Even President Barack Obama had a few choice words for Mr. Sterling.
What made the Clippers’ protest more successful compared to Kaepernick’s goes back to the timing. Kaepernick held a protest during the national anthem, consequently forcing viewers to pick between patriotism and social justice. The Clippers spoke out during their warm-ups and post-game interviews. The silent protest allowed the team to express their voice without competing against other variables, like the national anthem. This allowed the Clippers to gain instant support and why their message was not taken out of context.
To recap, we learned from Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem that timing is critical to issue awareness. Had he decided to kneel before the anthem or simply speak out during the post-game interview, maybe his protest wouldn’t have been despised. So the next time you’re thinking about raising awareness of an issue you hold dear to your heart, remember to take your timing into account.