My biggest problem with Colin Kaepernick being named Citizen of the Year by GQ magazine is not that he was an NFL player who began a movement of not standing for the National Anthem. That might surprise some, given my military family history.
No, my biggest problem with Colin Kaepernick being named Citizen of the Year — not Person of the Year or Man of the Year, but Citizen of the Year — is that he admitted last November to not caring enough about the 2016 election to bother to vote. Soon after, a Sacramento Bee article revealed that Kaepernick has never registered to vote — in any election.
According to the Sacramento Bee, Kaepernick “turned 18 in 2005, but he has not registered to vote in California at any point in the last decade … He also did not register in Nevada while he attended the University of Nevada, Reno, from 2006 to 2010 … That means he missed presidential elections in 2008 and 2012 — when Democrat Barack Obama was elected president — in addition to a variety of state and local elections in other years.”
Kaepernick claims he does not vote because he doesn’t want to support a system of oppression. Never mind that millions of people throughout the world and throughout history who are or were oppressed would give anything, indeed have sometimes lost everything, in order to have the right to vote.
However, not only has Kaepernick apparently not voted, ever since he began the kneeling-during-the-national-anthem movement last year he also has not had much to say about anything. At a University of Maryland symposium this month with sportscaster Bob Costas, Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon said Kaepernick’s radio silence over the last 13 months has been problematic for the cause: “You lose me as a 58-year-old black man in America when you say I didn’t vote and you didn’t recognize any distinction between the two candidates … When you are a quarterback, or even a former quarterback in the NFL, black, white or otherwise, look at the platform you have … You have this platform and you don’t use it, you don’t know how to use it, you’re quiet … I admire what he did, but he is not an ideal messenger.”
In other words, Kaepernick started something based on real concern and conviction, but his actions (or rather inactions), outside of kneeling during a football game, have not created meaningful movement in support of that cause, even though he had a real platform to make change for others. And I believe being a good citizen (remember, GQ named him Citizen of the Year) requires action — especially through voting.
In 2006 — incidentally, the year after Kaepernick became an adult and received the right to vote — John Mayer released a song called “Waiting on the World to Change” that has always seemed to me like an anthem for inaction. (So maybe it’s not so “incidental” after all that Kaepernick grew up in a cultural environment that gave rise to a song like Mayer’s.) The lyrics include this: “Now we see everything that’s going wrong/With the world and those who lead it/We just feel like we don’t have the means/To rise above and beat it/So we keep waiting (waiting)/Waiting on the world to change.”
That last part — “waiting on the world to change” — is repeated 14 times during the song. Honestly, it’s a little depressing. In 2006, when I first heard it, my husband was active-duty military. He wasn’t waiting. He was doing.
During another part of the song, Mayer sings, “Now if we had the power/To bring our neighbors home from war/They would have never missed a Christmas/No more ribbons on their door.” And this is the part that always causes me to turn to a different station.
Because you do have the power. So does Kaepernick. Your power is voting.
My dad spent 32 years in the Navy. By the time I was 22 years old, he had accumulated 11 years of sea time. He had literally been gone half my life, or, for Mayer, 11 Christmases. All of it was technically during peace time. Not being at war does not mean that servicemen and women are home. Why? Because the military is made up of people — many of them as young as Kaepernick in 2006 — who don’t believe in waiting around for other people to make a change. They even mail in their votes from across the world.
But it’s not just the military, of course. Good citizens who believe in action are all around us. They join boards. They run for local office. They write letters. They pen op-eds. They organize marches. They mentor youth. They raise money. They use their platforms.
While Kaepernick opts out and says nothing, others around him — in the NFL, in the military, across the country, in every town — are not waiting. They are doing.
Couldn’t GQ find one of them?
— Sarah Smiley is a syndicated columnist with ties to the Puget Sound area. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.