It always makes me uncomfortable when fellow Americans are denied the right to work because of their opinions. That includes Roseanne Barr and Colin Kaepernick, whose cases have a thing or two in common, with one big difference.
Barr was fired by ABC from her sitcom last week after she unleashed a loathsome tweet that was false, racist and mean-spirited. On the unlikely chance that you missed it, here’s what she said: “Muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes had a baby = vj.” “vj” refers to adviser and friend to former President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, who is black.
Of course, any suggestion that an African American is more closely related to apes than the rest of us taps into a timeless racist fable that shouldn’t reside anywhere in the psychological makeup of right-thinking, halfway-enlightened people. Not even a tongue loosened by Ambien — so Barr claimed — should let that old lie slip out of the box.
In most respects, the case of Colin Kaepernick is the polar opposite of Barr’s, but he finds himself without a job, as well. His decision to kneel during the national anthem at NFL games in order to direct attention toward the racial injustices that continue to plague our nation has resulted, arguably, in his being blackballed from playing in the league.
In fact, in October Kaepernick filed a grievance alleging that the NFL and the owners had colluded to keep him out of the league after he became a free agent. While a number of football experts have noted that Kaepernick has quarterbacking skills and a record that exceed those of players currently in the league, collusion is difficult to prove.
Football teams’ reasons for taking a pass on a particular player involve issues and concerns that aren’t always strictly based on talent. Still, Kaepernick’s case enjoys some support from President Donald Trump’s outspoken animus against players who protest. He’s said publicly that players who decline to stand for the anthem should be kept out of the league and, maybe, out of the country.
And at their spring meetings this month, the NFL owners and the league agreed unanimously — San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York abstained — to punish players who decline to stand for the national anthem.
The corporate interests that control both the Barr and Kaepernick cases are driven by concerns about the health and profitability of their brands. Sponsors don’t want to be associated with racist remarks like Barr’s. And the NFL doesn’t want to taint its fans’ enjoyment of football by uncomfortable reminders about race. And certainly they don’t want fans to stay away because of protests.
But the big difference between Barr and Kaepernick isn’t just the vast gap between a racial slur and an expression of concern about racial justice.
No, the difference is that Barr, in an unguarded moment, gave voice to unseemly feelings that are, unfortunately, shared by a significant minority of Americans. On the other hand, Kaepernick, in order to play, would be forced by a condition of his employment to participate in a coerced ritual that he would prefer to decline.
Just as I’m uncomfortable about Americans who lose their jobs for what they believe — and that includes Barr — I’m more uncomfortable about the expectation that, in order to keep a job, you must express positive and sufficient respect for symbols and ceremonies that don’t fully reflect your assessment of the state of race in our nation.
Kaepernick doesn’t have to have a good reason to decline to stand, or any reason, at all. Nor should he be coerced into participating in someone else’s version of patriotism.
I’ve written about Kaepernick before. But I continue to be surprised by the number of readers who casually dismiss the right of a fellow American to express himself as he sees fit, despite the concerns of corporations about their bottom lines. This unduly compliant attitude should be just about as alarming as the racist, late-night indiscretions of Roseanne Barr.
Both attitudes are — or should be — essentially un-American.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.