Retired Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has given what may be one of the most poignant explanations yet for why NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s controversial protests during the national anthem are necessary.
Kaepernick, who plays for the San Francisco 49ers, has refused to stand during the singing of the national anthem before NFL games, instead choosing to sit or take a knee in protest against what he has previously described as racist police practices and the continued oppression of black people and other people of color in America.
During an appearance on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show Conan Tuesday evening, the host asked Lynch about his thoughts on Kaepernick’s actions. Lynch, who rarely speaks to the media and doesn’t mince words when he does, stated the issue plainly: "I’d rather see him take a knee than stand up, put his hands up, and get murdered."
Over the past three weeks, Kaepernick has been both revered and scorned for his silent protests against police brutality. From soccer to volleyball, student athletes and professional athletes alike have been taking a knee during the national anthem in solidarity. By contrast, some critics have viewed his actions as undermining American patriotism, while others deride his income and his biracial heritage to suggest he's entering a fight he's not qualified to take on as his own.
But Lynch’s statement offers perspective. Nothing can absolutely shield a black person from becoming the next victim of police brutality.
At least 2,195 people have been killed by police since Mike Brown was killed by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson two years ago. A disproportionately high percentage of those killed were black. And the recent police shootings of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Keith Lamont Hill in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week serve as a reminder of how endemic this violence is to American policing.
Kaepernick may be biracial, and have more money than most, but that doesn’t mean racism isn’t a problem. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting it exists. As Lynch told O’Brien, "Shit’s got to start somewhere." And Kaepernick started with himself.
"I just hope people open up their eyes to see there’s really a problem going on, and something needs to be done for it to stop," Lynch said. "And I mean, if you’re really not racist, then you’re going to see what he’s done, what he’s doing, [not] as a threat to America, but just addressing a problem that we have."