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.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican or 505-986-3080.

(9) comments

Mike Johnson

Sorry Milan, Kaepernick was washed up as an athlete before he started protesting the flag and our national anthem. He will never get a job playing football again, and it has nothing to do with his race, his extreme political agenda, or his attitudes toward America. It is plain and simple, he is way over the hill and wasn't that good in his prime. Remember his three consecutive seasons leading the 49ers when they missed the playoffs, after making them the year before, and all the times he lost his starting job due to poor play. Remember all the surgeries, the fines for his language and advertising headphones, he is not capable of being an NFL player and hasn't been since 2016, when he started his new schtick. He is doing the only thing he is qualified to do, protest using his race as the excuse.

Ed McGurk

Except almost none of the looters and rioters were ever prosecuted.

Tom Hyland

There have been other nations in this world totally duped by patriotic propaganda generated by their elected officials which causes the population to become obedient extras in a grade B horror film. America sits atop the heap of the hysterical virtue signalers who wrap themselves in their flag. I've been around the world a few times and there isn't another country anywhere with so many flags a-crackin' in the wind. No other country has a thing called "Flag Day." It is no surprise that when this extroverted banner is shoved in everyone's face that it will become THE symbol for whatever ax that group is grinding. America swallowed "Land of the Free-Home of the Brave" hook, line and sinker. This delusion embrased by so many cowardly prisoners is a surreal spectacle to see... if you can see it.

Lee DiFiore

Check your facts on "no other country has a thing called flag day", it's easy.

Tom Hyland

I stand corrected. And as Mr. T used to say, "I pity the fools."

Russell Scanlon

I attended the Million Woman March in Austin in January of 2017, in protest of the election of Donald Trump and in solidarity with he Women’s movement. There were over 51,00 people in the streets and at the State Capitol. There was not one arrest or incident of vandalism or assault. This event was replicated around the nation with pretty much the same results. Not only that, no one attending these peaceful demonstrations found in necessary to bring weapons, bear spray, or dress up like an extra in the a “Rambo” movie.

Peaceful demonstrations are patriotic and an American tradition. They are effective when the cause is just and the participants are not hooligans or victims of brainwashing by a corrupt and cynical authoritarian. Also—when things go awry, real activists are prepared to go to jail or suffer for their cause and not run squealing to their lawyers to avoid the consequences of their actions.

Khal Spencer

Amen, Russell.

As far as the flag, it has been a mixed message. The same flag that flew over Jim Crow flew over Abraham Lincoln when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation and over the Union troops that fought a bloody spring war as they endured WW I trench warfare conditions marching towards Richmond, VA.

Any nation on earth has to accept that it contains the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Emily Koyama

Everyone is entitled to legal defense, including those who burned and looted cities across America last Summer, some of whom were bailed out by Ms Harris. I assume those are the "real activists" you speak of?

Russell Scanlon

Kamala Harris did support the BLM protestors as a response to multiple police murders of Black people. She never endorsed violence and looting and you know it. Anyone who engages in physical violence or destruction of property should expect to face the consequences.

Welcome to the discussion.

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