The Totems of the Tribe

Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, has attracted a lot of hostility for refusing to stand during the National Anthem. He is, he says, protesting police brutality against blacks. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the great former UCLA and Lakers center, has defended his right to protest in an editorial.

Of course Kareem is right. There are no laws, so far as I know, dictating homage to the flag or National anthem. This isn't like North Korea, where a deputy premier can be shot (with an anti-aircraft gun) for falling asleep while the Dear Leader is talking.

I'm interested in why this makes people so mad, and, being the opinionated character that I am, I have a theory. Football is a highly tribal activity. The flag and anthem are tribal totems - that's why they play the anthem at sporting events. By disrespecting the tribal totems, Kaepernick is disrespecting the tribe, and the members of the tribe feel betrayed.

So I agree that Kaepernick has a right to protest. But the fans, who ultimately pay his salary, also have a right to be angry. I personally doubt that his type of protest is likely to be effective, but he has a right to do it. His right to be an NFL quarterback is likely to have far more to do with his completion percentage than his protest.

UPDATE: Maybe it's worse for him than I thought. Worse than murder for some NFL execs, they say. From Josh Levin:

We’ve heard enough from players and coaches to know Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem is not super-duper popular in the NFL. A new story from Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman suggests that the league’s front-office types basically think Kaepernick murdered someone.

Freeman spoke to seven team executives, none of whom is identified by name. We don’t know, then, whether any of these folks are in position to wield the axes they’re grinding. What we do know is that all seven really, really hate Colin Kaepernick. “Each executive said he believes Kaepernick will likely get released by the 49ers—and never play in the NFL again,” Freeman writes. One exec calls the 49ers quarterback “a traitor.” Another says, “F--k that guy.” (Dashes in the original story.) Here are words of wisdom from a third:

One executive said he hasn't seen this much collective dislike among front office members regarding a player since Rae Carruth. Remember Rae Carruth? He's still in prison for the plot to murder his pregnant girlfriend.

NFL execs seem to be a patriotic bunch.


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