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Swinney's Kaepernick comments not ALL right
By Manie Robinson, Sports Columnist, The Greenville News

Clemson University coach Dabo Swinney answered the question that we should be asking.

How do we mend our country’s racial discord?

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Swinney said Tuesday, citing a Biblical commandment. “If we all lived by that in this country, we wouldn’t have near the problems we have.”

In addition to the teaching of Jesus, Swinney eloquently relayed the doctrine of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I don’t know that there’s ever been a better man or a better leader,” Swinney said. “He changed the world through love in the face of hate. He changed the world through peace in the face of violence. He changed the world through education in the face of ignorance. And he changed the world through Jesus.”

Swinney’s suggestions were pointed. They were used to counter the personal demonstrations of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In response to the racial disharmony, discrimination and injustice Swinney acknowledged, Kaepernick has kneeled during pregame performances of the national anthem.

“Everybody has a right to express himself in that regard, but I don’t think it’s good to be a distraction to your team,” Swinney said. “I don’t think it’s good to use the team as the platform. I totally disagree with that, not his protest, but I just think there’s a right way to do things.”

Just as Kaepernick is free to protest, Swinney is free to challenge his protest. However, Swinney’s reasoning behind his disapproval can be dangerous, because the social discourse surrounding Kaepernick has proven that most people cannot or are not willing to assess this situation with any degree of complexity and compassion.

Furthermore, it directly contradicts the ideals of the admired figure Swinney discussed.

Dr. King sacrificed his life for social justice and racial equality. Unfortunately, through the 48 years since his death, his philosophies on nonviolent protest have been conveniently diluted as passive. Thus, he has been opportunely, but erroneously, acclaimed as the standard of non-confrontational protest in contrast of disorderly unrest.

King was peaceful, but he also was forceful. In the 1960s, his speeches, letters, marches, rallies and organizations were not necessarily considered the “right way to do things.”

How many people would have preferred he choose a different route than marching on the Edmund Pettus Bridge?

How many people would have preferred those students in Greensboro not sit at that lunch counter?

How many people would have preferred that Rosa Parks find another seat?

Peaceful protest does not need to consider our preferences. Compared to the celebrated campaigns that advanced this country out of Jim Crow, Kaepernick’s demonstrations are tame.

Kaepernick has been condemned, even by Swinney, for creating more division, primarily because his method of protest has been distorted into a debate about patriotism, military appreciation and sideline decorum.

The subsequent media coverage has been relegated to a roll call of athletes who have mimicked Kaepernick. It has been coupled by a casual poll of coaches, athletes, parents and politicians on the symbolic gesture of the anthem.

That diversion prompted the question that stirred Swinney’s sermon: “Would you discipline one of your players if he chose not to stand for the national anthem?”

That debate is dismissive and distracting, because too often it never advances from there. A survey on standing for the national anthem stalls the conversation on Kaepernick’s method, and thus, those who have no interest in addressing his motivation never have to do so.

Kaepernick is not responsible for the simplicity of our social discourse. We should be rational and intelligent enough to recognize the complexity of this issue.

We should understand that a peaceful demonstration against the traditional salutation to the flag is not a vilification of the military. We should understand that a personal protest against police brutality is not a denouncement of all police.

We should understand that Kaepernick’s status as the backup quarterback or even as a millionaire does not disqualify him from addressing issues that may never affect him directly. We should understand that for many Americans, educational, financial and professional enrichment does not protect one from oppression.

We should understand that violent crime, regardless of the ethnicity of its perpetrators, should be a concern for all citizens and is not a suitable counterargument to the grievances of a community.

We should understand that a news conference, the alternative Swinney suggested for Kaepernick would not draw any less ire. We should understand that, regardless of Kaepernick’s manner, some people will fabricate a way to deny his message.

We should not make their intolerance any easier.

If we analyzed the civil rights movement of the 1960s like we have done this comparatively innocuous protest, Swinney and I would still be forced to drink out of separate water fountains.

Let us all, especially those of us in the media entrusted with crafting this story, discover and respect its nuance. Let us ask the right questions. Let us all help others realize this is more than a story.

For many Americans, this feels like a matter of life and death. It is bigger than our preferences. It is bigger than Kaepernick. It is bigger than the 49ers. It is bigger than football.

And it is bigger than the flag.

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