I’m not sure Colin Kaepernick knew it would reach this level of interest when he first sat down and later took a knee. That’s the funny thing about movements. There’s no telling how many people will assemble behind a shared purpose.
And in the case of an NFL player protesting inequality and seeking social justice by not standing during the national anthem, how many children would become involved in the crusade.
Each week passes and the anthem is played before competitions of various levels of skill across the country, and, more and more, athletes choose to support Kaepernick’s hope that change can be created through peaceful protest.
Several peers of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, along with professional athletes from other sports, also have taken a knee or raised a fist in support, meaning Kaepernick is hardly alone demonstrating that which has shined an intense light at a national dialogue on race relations.
It also has offered one of those unplanned opportunities that arises when teachers or coaches or parents alike might present insight to children, not something planned for and yet important enough to pursue.
This is all making for one heck of a teaching moment, no matter on which side of the debate you stand … or kneel.
A friend recently likened Kaepernick’s movement to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the activity involving dumping a bucket of ice and water on someone’s head to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Tens of millions of unique videos related to the challenge were posted on social media sites and almost $115 million was raised.
It served its purpose, and then some.
But there was also an unmistakable feeling that many took the challenge for the chance to look silly on Facebook or Twitter or other platforms, that donating money or raising awareness wasn’t their foremost intent.
Which makes you wonder: At what age are those children mirroring Kaepernick’s actions able to understand theirs, and how young is too young to involve kids in political statements?
A local youth football team, the TMT Red Lions, recently kneeled before one of its games. The roster is made up of 5- and 6-year-olds, which suggests an entirely different column about the idiocy of kids so young wearing helmets and shoulder pads and not just a pair of flags.
I once had children that age, both of whom are now older and, they will assure you, much wiser. Never underestimate the self-confidence of teenagers, however misguided at times.
The coach of the Red Lions told reporters it was his players who came to him about the idea of kneeling for the anthem. Maybe. But the odds any of them truly grasped the massive scale of Kaepernick’s movement and its place within society is that of Tom Brady declining his option to return to the field next week.
“Kids learn very positive lessons from athletes, things like working hard and being a good sport and playing fair and excelling,” said Christopher Kearney, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at UNLV. “They will also emulate things that get a lot of media attention and are seen on television, but younger kids (in elementary school) are not going to fully understand the complex issues that are underpinning Kaepernick’s response to the national anthem.
“Kids will pay close attention to what all adults say and do, but it’s really not until middle school in the sixth and seventh and eighth grades where they begin seeing things through their own filter and cognitive development expands and they start forming their own opinions. By high school, their independent thinking expands a lot more.”
Fact: Youth sports is not about the kids. Never has been. It’s about parents who promote playing 10 soccer or baseball games over the course of a weekend and obsess over final scores and believe coaches giving a 30-minute postgame summation to a 5-year-old football player who lost focus two words into the speech is a good thing.
I know. I was involved in it for years.
I was one of the loons giving those speeches.
Back in the day, we wore knee sleeves for basketball games not because of injury or as a proactive measure but because Michael Jordan did. We wore arm sleeves because Allen Iverson did.
Point being, those using Kaepernick’s actions as a teaching moment need to understand how it will influence young minds, and how critical it is those lessons imparted promote positive change and not incite more controversy.
They need to know their audience.
Conversation is always a good thing. So is encouraging children to think for themselves and learn about social issues, ones that always have existed just below the surface of conflict and are now, through protest, being rightly examined above it.
It has been said we don’t need a political movement for children to speak for or against certain ideals, that instead we need to build environments and policies for our collective future. In a very real way, Kaepernick and those who have followed him have the opportunity to construct such change for generations to come.
I don’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem, and yet I absolutely support the constitutional right of anyone to do so. But whether it’s youth football players or members of the Durango High School team or all the other kids nationally who have actively participated in the movement, we need to hope the adults in their lives respond to it with education and meaningful discourse.
And not just because it might look cool on Facebook and Twitter.
And, for 5- and 6-year-olds, to realize they clearly don’t understand the difference.
Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney