In response to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the national anthem before a football game, UT System Chancellor William McRaven sent out a memo Aug. 29 to presidents and athletic directors within the UT System urging athletes to “stand up straight when the National Anthem” is played.
Kaepernick told NFL Media his protest was bigger than football and he couldn’t show pride for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” Kaepernick said to NFL Media. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ...If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
McRaven sent out a similar memo in January where he asked for coaches and players to “face the flag and place their hand over their heart as a sign of respect to the nation” but felt the need to remind them after the national controversy surrounding Kaepernick. McRaven did not mention Kaepernick in the memo.
“Those that believe the flag represents oppression should remember all the Americans who fought to eliminate bigotry, racism, sexism, imperialism, communism and terrorism,” McRaven said in the memo. “It is a flag for everyone, of every color, of every race, of every creed, and of every orientation.”
McRaven is a former admiral and retired from the military in 2014 to become chancellor of the UT System. He states in the memo no one is compelled to stand, but by “sitting in protest to the flag, they are disrespecting everyone who sacrificed to make the country what it is today — as imperfect as it might be.”
“The young student athletes are future leaders of the nation,” McRaven said in the memo. “By showing respect for the flag, they are making it possible for America to be everything we dreamed it could be.”
Joshua Ellis, government and African and African diaspora studies sophomore, said it was brave of Kaepernick to protest on one of the most -watched sports in the U.S. He also said McRaven can’t be a proponent of freedom of speech and then speak out against someone exercising that right.
“It’s honestly the most respectful thing anyone can do, to exercise the rights we fought for,” Ellis said. “It’s our right to critique America and enact change. Don’t let anybody take away your voice. Don’t think you have to speak on the issue, don’t feel compelled to speak on someone else’s behalf, but if you have an issue, realize the platform you have is extremely powerful.”
Ellis said his father served 20 years in the army and doesn’t think Kaepernick’s actions were disrespectful.
Kevin Durant, NBA player and UT alumnus, spoke on campus Friday about his life after graduating, and he spoke out in support of Kaepernick’s actions.
“I’m behind anyone who stands up for what they believe in,” Durant said.
A letter from veterans supporting Kaepernick’s decision to protest was posted on Medium last week with contributions from 35 veterans.
“Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech,” Veterans for Kaepernick wrote. “As veterans, we implore all Americans to find your way to challenge this status quo and advocate for ‘a more perfect union.’”