Colin Kaepernick and Non-violent Civil Disobedience


Civil disobedience is defined as a situation in which people take to the streets or act in violation of the law so as to review an issue by the public and the political class. Proponents of the use of civil disobedience say that such minor crimes including blocking roads and occupying public spaces are acceptable if the quest is to resolve an issue of greater magnitude. Serious issues that may call for civil disobedience if the political class does not heed public opinion include war or damaging the environment extensively. The act of civil disobedience involves some form of breach of either the normal practice or the law. It involves infiltration of secret spaces and disruption of the public order. Consequently, the action of civil disobedience is commonly treated as trespass (Brownlee). According to Henry David Thoreau, in his Civil Disobedience, such disobedience as refusing to stand when the American national Anthem is being sung in public sporting events is desirable. The intention of this essay is to demonstrate that civil disobedience is a way of expressing one’s convictions, through comparing Thoreau’s thoughts with Kaepernick’s actions of resistance.


Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback player with 49ers of San Francisco opted to kneel as the national anthem was underway prior to the commencement of the NFL games. His action represented a peaceful way of protesting how America is treating members of the black community (Rosenberg). His protest action influenced others in other sports. It triggered a conversation at national level and attracted the president’s anger. His action marked the end of his football career.

In contrast, Thoreau advocates for picking up arms is much like the stands that Dr. King and Parks would assume. According to Thoreau, every person owes it to themselves and fellow citizens not to simply follow their governments like a flag in the wind. If people have reason to believe that the laws being applied are not just, then they must rise up by whichever means available and protest to repeal such laws. Thoreau never liked slavery; even though it was supported by the state. So it is also not surprising that he held such sentiments (Thoreau).


In analyzing Thoreau’s thinking, it is apparent that one must prioritize their conscience over state laws. Thoreau’s work provides a sharp criticism of the American institutions and the policies that they apply; particularly on the issue of slavery, and the war with Mexico. Thoreau argues that it is a rare show for government to demonstrate its usefulness. The authority held by the government is drawn from the people who are the majority unit and not because their viewpoint is necessarily the best (Thoreau, 1). He says that everyone is obligated to do what is right , and then follow the law; not vice versa. He says that if the government starts meting injustice on its people, the people must decline to obey the law and create a rift between them and the government. There is no obligation to eliminate evil deeds from the world but there is an obligation not to participate in such evil. Therefore one must choose not to be part of an institution that is unjust, such as the government. Thoreau points out that the US government is a perfect example of an unjust institution because it supports slavery.

Kaepernick’s argument is in line with the idea of prioritizing the conscience over the law. He followed his conscience and refused to stand when the national anthem was being played because it is an instrument of an oppressive institution. His action brought the issue of racial relations to the fore with force. A lot was said, even by the ignorant people regarding the athletes action; some explaining why he was wrong. However, an in-depth analysis of the situation shows that most of the effusions by the critics of the athlete were making a statement to the effect that they would not agree with him unless he wasn’t challenging anyone (Biddle). Such a stance seemed to be supporting the claims from some quarters that there is not a real problem with the American criminal justice system as far as the issue of race relations is concerned.

According to Thoreau, the government is unlikely to change as a result of petitioning it. Thoreau provides his personal experience as a model of how the government should be forced t be just. Thoreau refused to pay taxes in protest of slavery. He spent a night in jail because of the same. Ideologically, Thoreau succeeded in delinking himself from the government as an institution that was promoting injustice Thoreau, 5). He says that such protest had greater impact that reform advocacy from within the oppressive institution itself. He observes that it is not easy to see the true government as it is when one is still part of it.

Kaepernick refused to be part of an oppressive institution by declining to stand when the anthem was being played. Kaepernick still had his full career ahead of him. He could make more money and achieve greater feats, but he decided to delink himself from an oppressive government. In August of 2016, a number of people who had passed anonymously around when still alive became heroes in death because of a society that had lost its bearing. Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray and Alton Sterling’s lives were taken away in the goriest of circumstances; thanks to a rogue state (Rosenberg). Kaepernick decided to take a seat as the American national Anthem played ahead of his team’s preseason match with Texans. The media could not summon the guts to ask him why for a good two weeks. When he was approached, he explained that he was protesting against social injustice and inequality. He pointed out his discomfort regarding how his country treated members of the black race and people of color. He explained that the issue was far bigger than his football career and could not taker it without protest.

According to Thoreau, people have a right to revolt. Such reality is evident even on the American Revolution; whose origins, he says are not as morally compelling as what is being experienced at the moment. Thoreau urges people to rebel; even though they formed a government. He says such a government may or may not resolve its propensity to commit evil. Thoreau observes that those who most prominently oppose reform are not necessarily in the inner circle of government; rather, they are the common people around; supporting the government in its misdeeds. The action about the objection is more significant than merely expressing oneself that they are opposed to slavery. It is the individual that will address evil, and not government institution. Thoreau further notes that there is a higher obligation for man to refuse to comply with institutional evil. One must break the law if it is necessary in achieving noncompliance to evil.

The action by Kaepernick provided a platform for dialogue on the underlying issues in society including social injustice and concerns of the underprivileged. Sports organizations became abuzz with the uncomfortable conversation. It is clear that there is not an official coordination team to oversee the developments in sports circles. The actions by the sports people are spontaneous.

According to Thoreau, abolition can be done through withdrawal of support to the government. People can decline to pay taxes. If the consequence is to be imprisoned, he says, there is nothing shameful about it. He says that prison is the ideal place for a man living in an unjust society. Under the prevailing circumstances, payment of taxes is violent and bloody. Refusing to pay taxes means a peaceful revolution. Thoreau says that money has a corrupting effect. Therefore, he calls for self reliant life that is simple as a way of maintaining and sustaining freedom at individual level. Thoreau gives an account of his experience in Concord Jail. He condemns the mistreatment of an individual as though he was merely an o0bject as opposed to being an intellectually potent entity with morals. H says that it follows that only the morally upright can compel a man.

As a result of the protest by Kaepernick, a number of his team mates and other players, including the linebacker for broncos, Brandon Marshall joined the fray. Kaepernick was later joined in the protest by five of his other team mates. Another conspicuous participant in the protest was Megan Rapinoe, a shining player from the Women National Team. She knelt before the anthem was played in the games she took part in(Victor). The action by Kaepernick influenced many similar protests by sports people against the country’s treatment of people of color. One of the most outstanding incidents was prior to the starting of the collegiate game between Nebraska and North Western on the 24th of September 2016. Prior to the commencement of the game between Wildcats and Huskers, three of Nebraska players, Daishon Neal, Mohammed Barry and Michael Rose knelt before the anthem was played. They also bowed their heads and prayed. Nebraska doe not play the anthem when the teams are playing at home, neither does Northwestern. Therefore, they seized the likely only chance to protest. It is not surprising that the players were widely castigated by those who only saw the surface of things or supported the status quo. They received greater vitriol that Kaepernick did.


Civil disobedience may invariably be seen as recourse for people when the systems set for engagement between citizens are dysfunctional or have broken down. Such breakdown qualifies to be referred to as a deficit in democracy. Dialogue is unavoidable in democratic set up. When there is disobedience for purposes of righting the deficits, it is often construed to be the sensitivity by dissenters to the ideals of democracy. Thoreau’s advocacy for civil disobedience, when there are democratic deficits, is as relevant today as it has ever been. So, Kaepernick’s case is a typical example of such a stance; refusing to comply with the dictates of an unjust government and unjust laws.




Works cited

Biddle, David. Colin Kaepernick and Non-violent Civil Disobedience. The Coffeelicious, 2016. Web.

Brownlee, Kimberley, “Civil Disobedience”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition). Web.

ROSENBERG, MICHAEL. Colin Kaepernick Is Recipient of 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. Sports Illustrated, 2017. Web.

Thoreau, Henry David. Civil disobedience. Broadview Press, 2016. Print.

Victor, Daniel. Obama Says Colin Kaepernick Is ‘Exercising His Constitutional Right.’ The New York Times, 2016. Web.

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