Some blame Colin Kaepernick. Others condemn Donald Trump.
Many more say the U.S. flag wasn’t a political football before the two of them intersected.
History tells a different story, one showing the flag had been used in countless causes long before Kaepernick took a knee.
He was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers in 2016 when he began his sideline demonstrations during playing of the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, famous words in what became his last season in the NFL.
Trump later used foul language to describe NFL players turned protesters. As president, Trump called for the firing of players who didn’t stand and salute the flag.
Because this is Flag Day, it’s as good a time as any to remember that Kaepernick was only one of a long line of demonstrators who made a point while the Stars and Stripes waved nearby. Unlike Kaepernick, many other protesters used the flag to promote bigotry, political causes or economic policies.
Oxford, Miss., 1966 — U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy arrived in town just before Flag Day to speak to students in the University of Mississippi’s law school. As attorney general under his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy had played a part in desegregating Ole Miss. Angry advocates of segregated schools responded to Kennedy’s arrival with a “rebel flag day” at the state Capitol in Jackson.
Washington, D.C., 1919 — Hundreds of representatives of organized labor spent Flag Day demonstrating on the Capitol steps. They wanted a repeal of Prohibition, the recently approved constitutional amendment banning the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors.
Des Moines, Iowa, 1967 — Two pilots painted flags on their 1949 single-engine airplane, then flew it on a coast-to-coast demonstration on Flag Day. During a refueling stop in Des Moines, they said they were protesting “kooks burning draft cards.”
Washington, D.C., 1979 — Leaders of 2 million unionized federal workers organized a Flag Day demonstration at the U.S. Capitol. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., addressed the delegation, saying President Jimmy Carter’s wage-price guidelines hurt workers while bankers and oil barons profiteered. Kennedy unsuccessfully challenged Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination the following year.
Chicago, 1945 — Two Marines and a Navy corpsman believed to be in the famous photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima arrived on their national tour to promote the sale of war bonds.
The country had been moved by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the six flag-raisers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted those servicemen brought home to raise money needed to pay for World War II.
Three Marines in the flag-raising photo died in combat before Roosevelt’s plan could commence. As it turned out, the Navy corpsman and one of the Marines on the tour weren’t actually in the photo — errors by the Marine Corps that went undetected for more than 70 years.
Santa Fe, Jan. 6, 2021 — Protesters in vehicles and on horses gathered outside the state Capitol after a riot in Washington by then-President Donald Trump’s supporters. Many demonstrators at the state Capitol brought along Trump banners or the U.S. flag. They also carried Trump’s false message that voter fraud robbed him of a second term.
The Trump crowd wasn’t part of Kaepernick’s fan base. The two sides remain separated by undeniable truths: Kaepernick’s demonstrations were peaceful. The Washington insurrection by Trump’s supporters was a lawless attempt to take the presidency away from winning candidate Joe Biden.
Many of the rioters are in the justice system at courthouses with high-flying flags.
Justice for Kaepernick would come in a different arena. NFL training camps open next month. His career might get new life if one of the 32 teams gave him the chance for a comeback.
Team owners are scared of the controversy that would ensue. The mood in NFL locker rooms would be different.
About 60 percent of NFL players are Black, and most saw something Trump’s supporters wouldn’t consider. Kaepernick lifted the principles of the flag by kneeling.