In a recent letter to the San Francisco 49ers, the Santa Clara police union informed the team that police may choose not to not to work at the 49ers facilities during home games in response to Colin Kaepernick’s protests and comments. Kaepernick, a quarterback for the 49ers, chose not to stand during the national anthem at the 49ers’ final two preseason games, commenting afterword that he would not “stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” and going on to say that There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder (via NFL.com).” The police union’s response stated both that the union “has a duty to protect its members and work to make all of their working environments free of harassing behavior,” and that Kaepernick’s statements were “insulting, inaccurate and completely unsupported by any facts (via ESPN.com).” In addition, Kaepernick recently wore socks bearing the images of pigs dressed in police garb, with pigs serving as a negative reference to police.
This is certainly not the first time that an athlete has chosen not to stand during the national anthem, nor is it the first time that police and NFL players have butted heads over protest actions in the context of a game. St. Louis police took issue with a demonstration by Rams wide receivers in 2014 related to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. In that instance, as well as so far in the Kaepernick instance, the team has chosen to stand by their players’ ability to express their opinions.
While questions about Kaepernick’s actions and comments could and have been reviewed at length in the recent days, one can also question the response of the police union to Kaepernick’s actions. Were this form of protest done by a number of fans instead of by a player, it seems unlikely that there would be any response by police. However, Kaepernick serves as a very public figure, having led the team to success in years past. Additionally, the NFL serves as one of the largest entertainment industries in the country, with a large amount of viewership and reach into numerous communities around the country. Indeed, Kaepernick’s actions carry more influence because of the public nature of his job.
With all of this in mind, the question can be raised: Is the police union’s response to this protest appropriate? Is the union informing the team that some police may choose on their own not to work 49er games, or is this a warning about a prescriptive action from all Santa Clara police? While each individual officer certainly has the ability to choose whether they want to work providing security at games, one could question why the union felt it needed to inform the team of the possibility that some would choose not to on their own accord. In addition, is the scope of a choice to remove all Santa Clara police from serving at games proportionate to Kaepernick’s actions? With the tens of thousands of people other than Colin Kaepernick who work at and attend 49er games, this is certainly a question that the public can ask of the police union and that the union can ask of themselves.
Police face opposition every day doing their jobs, and yet they continue to serve even in the face of this opposition. Questions about policing have been raised for longer than Colin Kaepernick has been protesting. The general public still relies on police to serve and protect while these questions are being raised. While some mean to degrade these officers with their comments, the larger sentiment of wanting the police to do their job as well as possible does not need to be read as an attack, but rather as a desire that our finest are always at their finest. These are all things that everyone involved in this interaction can continue to remember as we move forward in discussing and working on this issue.