Maybe it’s his build. He’s skinnier than most football players.
Maybe it’s his tattoos.
Maybe it’s his fashion: a T-shirt of Malcolm X and Fidel Castro, socks depicting police officers as pigs.
Kaepernick doesn’t care if you like him.
He wants you to notice him.
Maybe the narrative works: the brash young athlete who doesn’t understand politics trying to make a political stand. The young man from a poor family who stupidly insulted the military and the country. A person without respect, without honor, without a value of tradition.
Plenty of Americans read this narrative, believe this narrative — maybe even liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
But the narrative takes a turn. The long-recited narrative, the way to dismiss women, poor people, and people of color from having a voice in politics: too stupid to get it … too disrespectful … don’t pay any attention … they’re just crazy …
Take a closer look at Colin Kaepernick. Doesn’t matter if you like him. What’s he saying to you?
Football season has begun, but Kaepernick isn’t even on the bench. No team has signed him.
His stats don’t make it clear. Kaepernick threw for more than 2,000 yards in just 12 games last season, but here’s a list of 20 free agent quarterbacks signed ahead of him.
This isn’t about stats.
This is about Kaepernick refusing to play his role. Stay in his lane.
This is about America waking up to its racist roots: even in a league that offers a rare chance for African American men to be millionaires.
It’s not about what Kaepernick said or didn’t say. It’s about him making a powerful statement that doesn’t require words: a statement rooted in an African American Christian tradition built on nonviolent resistance.
The vitriol directed toward Kaepernick, even by NFL executives, comes as much from fear as it does from genuine dislike. If Kaepernick really was a harmless, crazy, dumb gadfly, the execs wouldn’t care. They’d sign him up, as they’ve signed up criminals and abusers and even murderers in the NFL’s past.
No, this is different. This is about a deep fear of what Kaepernick has tapped into: a shaking of America’s Christian roots and a question about who owns the narrative of Jesus: white evangelical Christian culture or African American liberation movements?
You watch it on TV and you have to wonder what the fuss is all about. The stadium is standing and Kaepernick is kneeling. Silently. Arms folded. Elbow on his knee staring straight ahead.
You’re thinking: Dammit.
I can’t even watch football on Sunday anymore and drink a beer without being reminded that something is wrong in America.
You want Kaepernick to go away, to stand up and salute the flag and shut up because we can tolerate abuse of other human beings but we cannot tolerate being disrupted when we want to pretend that everything is okay.
Of course, to be black in America is to know that everything is not okay. Not when black Americans are arrested, incarcerated and killed at much higher rates than white Americans. When a traffic stop can be life threatening. When even millions of dollars won’t change the color of your skin. When people celebrate monuments to an army put together to keep you enslaved.
So Kaepernick is merely making clear what all of us knew, deep down.
His gesture is nonthreatening. Meek. Which is perhaps what makes it so scary.
When you watch the actual thing — the actual national anthem protest — you have to wonder: What about this is so scary that not a single NFL team would draft this guy?
What are we so afraid of?
A black man in a football jersey takes a knee. Others join him. They don’t want you to like them. They want you to notice them.
One of the most interesting things about Kaepernick is his faith. Yep. Kaepernick is a Christian. He was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran and attended a Baptist church during his college years.
He sounds virtually Tebow-esque when he talks about his faith in God, saying, “I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field,” according to an interview with the Reno, Nev., Sparks Tribune.
Kaepernick has a Bible scroll with Psalm 18:39 tattooed on his right arm. Underneath is written “To God be the Glory.”
So Kaepernick wants to glorify God with what he does on the field. Is it such a stretch to imagine that it is Kaepernick’s faith, rather than a lack thereof, that is inspiring him to kneel during the national anthem?
Is it possible that rather than disrespect, it is instead a deep respect for the principles of America and the God who granted this nation its freedom that causes Kaepernick to kneel?
Is it possible that we don’t want to see his Christian faith because Kaepernick doesn’t look like the white, all-American, handsome Texas quarterback that white America believes is all that’s great about football and America?
Is it possible you don’t like him because he makes you wonder about your own faith, your own church, your own God? Does God not judge America for its original sin of racism? Does God question the deaths of so many young black men? Does God not believe that Black Lives Matter?
Have we hidden in our segregated churches so that the God Kaepernick seeks to glorify won’t see our sins?
I keep coming back to the kneeling.
The kneeling. The kneeling. The kneeling.
I understand that Kaepernick first chose to sit for the anthem, then changed his mind to kneel to show greater respect for the American military, after a conversation with a veteran.
Kneeling is powerful.
I believe this choice to kneel also represents a link to Kaepernick’s Christian faith.
To kneel is to show respect. To make a statement. To humble oneself, but also to stand out from the wider world.
Many churches, especially Catholic churches, have kneelers.
My old Lutheran congregation had a semicircular altar. To receive communion — young and old, you had to kneel.
It’s hard to be arrogant, or stupid, or prideful, or shortsighted — or any of the things Colin Kaepernick is alternately accused of being — when you are kneeling.
Kneeling points the spotlight away from yourself and on to someone else. It is, as it has been in the church for centuries, a holy act.
Kaepernick went unsigned this year. He won’t be able to kneel during the anthem. But others will kneel with him and for him. They will kneel not for themselves, because this isn’t about them just as much as it isn’t about Kaepernick and whether you like him.
They will kneel to honor a country that must be respected and a standard set out from its founding that must not be ignored: that all are created equal.
They will kneel, I believe, to remind us of who and whose we ultimately are.
The Rev. Angela Denker is a former sportswriter turned Lutheran pastor, writer, speaker — and full-time mother of two little boys — based in Minneapolis. Denker covered the 2009 Super Bowl and was published in 2007 in Sports Illustrated. This article originally appeared on her blog, A Good Christian Woman … Not that One.