Derek Gentile | First Amendment protects Kaepernick's right to protest

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PITTSFIELD — I don't agree with San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision (since imitated by several other pro athletes) to sit during the national anthem. But he has the right to do so.

The principal reason for my stance is that Kaepernick is seeking to call attention to racial injustice in this country. That is a reasonable aim.

But that, as we now know, is not what's happening. Instead, the debate is whether he and other athletes who are following him, are disrespecting the flag and our country's veterans. Or whether he and others are, in fact, traitors.

The best-laid plans of mice and football players don't always unfold as envisioned. My belief is that Kaepernick might have made a better point had he opted for a more positive act to express his dissatisfaction. That has apparently happened, as kaepernick is reportedly donating $1 million to various nonprofits that assist communities in dealing with racial inequality and police issues.

Fair enough. I wish he had thought of that before he thought to sit during the anthem.

But the interesting thing to me is that the people who wish to strip away Colin Kaepernick's First Amendment rights are very, very defensive of their own Second Amendment rights. I don't believe one constitutional amendment should carry more weight than another. It has to go both ways.

But it's all too late to have a meaningful discussion of the First Amendment, racism or the importance of the flag as an American symbol. I think the controversy has outstripped the issue. Which is the most regrettable aspect of this whole thing.

Because make no mistake: There is racial injustice in the United States. I believe that things have improved since the Civil War, clearly. The presence of an African-American president is proof of that.

But the country is swinging the other way now. Syrian immigrants, both Christian and Muslim, are no longer welcome in the United States. One of the presidential candidates wants to build a wall between this country and Mexico to somehow block the flow of immigrants.

Interestingly, certain segments of the population believe that illegal immigrants are in the United States to steal jobs, while another segment believes they are here to sponge off our social services. Don't know who to believe.

But getting back to Kaepernick, I would paraphrase the French author Voltaire. I disagree wholly with what Kaepernick did, but I would defend those actions with everything I have. That is one of the foundations of American Democracy.

And, equally, readers have every right to dispute that sentiment. But it's why we're the greatest nation on Earth.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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