Tom Sorensen

NFL anthem protests, Charlottesville tragedy point to a truth: Something must change

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) sat out the national anthem before an NFL exhibition on Saturday, and it created barely a ripple.
Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) sat out the national anthem before an NFL exhibition on Saturday, and it created barely a ripple. AP

There will come a team when athletes who kneel or sit during the national anthem no longer will attract attention. A phenomenon is new and then, overnight or during the off-season, it is not.

Marshawn Lynch didn’t attract much attention when he sat during the anthem Saturday before his Oakland Raiders lost 20-10 to the Arizona Cardinals.

Before Seattle’s 48-17 victory Sunday against San Diego, the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, whose father served in the military, chose not to stand.

Last weekend was not about athletes kneeling or sitting. It was about the hate there for everybody to see. The gathering in Charlottesville, Va., by white power groups was a testament to racism.

Create a profile of the far right white movement and I guarantee you’ll find many people whose lives are much less successful than they expected, much less successful than they believe they deserve. Somebody has to be blamed for the absence of success – somebody else, I mean. So they blame blacks and Latinos and Jews, liberals and intellectuals and elitists, the media and the Democrats and the rich people for deliberately ruining their lives.

The gathering turned tragic. Three died in Charlottesville, two police officers in a helicopter crash and a woman who was deliberately run down by a car.

I stand for the anthem. I always have. My parents did. But when athletes kneel in part to protest racism, don’t they at least prompt people to think?

To refuse to stand doesn’t mean an athlete is not patriotic or does not support the military. It means there’s an issue or issues to which he (or she) wants to call attention. The platform is there, and despite the ramifications, athletes (like entertainers) do.

Kaepernick still taking a knee

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee throughout last season to protest social injustice. He opted out of his contract with the 49ers and has since been unemployed.

I assumed that the NFL was too powerful, too pragmatic and too interested n winning to blackball a player. I appear to be wrong.

When Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down for the season in training camp, the Dolphins needed a quarterback who could at least put the team in position to win.

Is that player Miami back-up Matt Moore, the former Carolina Panther? No.

Is that player quarterback Jay Cutler, who washed off of the Chicago Bears’ roster and was prepared to beach up in the FOX broadcast booth? No.

It is true that Miami head coach Adam Gase was Cutler’s offensive coordinator with the Bears, and Gase and the Dolphins signed him.

But nothing Cutler and Moore have accomplished suggests they are capable of winning.

John Harbaugh, who coaches the Baltimore Ravens, is the brother of former San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh. Kaepernick did his best work for Jim Harbaugh, and Harbaugh speaks highly about his quarterback.

When Baltimore starter Joe Flacco went down with a back injury, John Harbaugh acknowledged that the Ravens had talked about Kaepernick. But owner Steve Bisciotti apparently wasn’t interested, and the Ravens did not extend an offer.

If Flacco can’t play, his backup is Ryan Mallett, a temp who is working for his third team in seven seasons. If you want to win, you do not deliberately entrust an offense to Mallett. The Ravens expect Flacco will be ready for the season opener, but they admit that they don’t know.

Success on the field

Kaepernick has played in one Super Bowl and two NFC championships. He’s 4-2 in the playoffs, 0-1 in the Super Bowl. His 49ers fell behind Baltimore in the Super Bowl loss, and to bring them back he threw for more than 300 yards.

In the 2013 divisional playoffs in Charlotte, the 49ers beat the Panthers 23-10. After Kaepernick rushed for a touchdown, he did Newton’s Superman. He did a pretty good one, too.

On a bad San Francisco team last season Kaepernick threw 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions.

Kaepernick, who at 29 is a year older than Newton, is not a great quarterback. But the longer he’s gone, the better he was. He’ll be legendary by late October.

If Newton’s shoulder isn’t healed when the season begins, a scrambling moving quarterback such as Kaepernick would be ideal. A marginal starter might be undermined by Kaepernick’s presence. Newton wouldn’t be.

Kaepernick won’t play for the Panthers. But some team will lose a starter, and in desperation will reach out to the blackballed quarterback. Watch.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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