Courageous (adjective): Not deterred by danger or pain; brave
I believe we, as Americans, sometimes have a skewed vision of what it means to be courageous. Many times we only talk about how someone is courageous when they rush into a burning building to save a life, or when discussing soldiers who patrol battlefields protecting our country. Let me be perfectly clear: Both of those are truly courageous acts, and deserve praise and admiration.
But what about daily acts of courage? For instance, why don’t we praise the guy who tells his friends to stop saying something is “gay” even though he knows he’s going to get mocked? Or the popular girl who sits with someone at lunch who normally has to eat alone? Or how about the athlete who says enough is enough and decides to bring a spotlight to a national issue?
It’s entirely possible that you agreed with the first two examples while disagreeing with the third. But why aren’t these the same thing? The guy knows that his buddies are going to make fun of him, tell him they’re only joking, but he does it anyway. The girl knows that some people are going to stare and probably talk about her behind her back, but she does it anyway. The athlete knows that there could be repercussions, but he weighs the costs and does it anyway. All three showed courage in their actions, and all three were right to do so.
Colin Kaepernick decided to do something he knew would bring backlash. In an interview with NFL.com, Kaepernick stated, “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” This is a man willing to sacrifice his livelihood so those who feel disenfranchised can be heard. He saw an issue, realized it needed more attention, and decided silence was essentially acceptance. I then have to ask: What is more American than that?
Americans raise awareness regarding issues abroad on a daily basis. It could be because our country was founded as a way to escape abuse. In fact, take a second and scan your feed right now and you’ll inevitably see a relief banner for a crisis. But what about those in need in our own country? According to Feeding America, 48.1 million Americans live in food insecure households. Baton Rouge, La. was just hit with the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy. In 2015, Indiana had to declare a public health emergency to curb the spread of Hepatitis C. If we are as great as we say, we have to help our neighbors as well as those abroad.
Colin Kaepernick is a lot of things. He could be labeled courageous. Hero could possibly be another. But un-American? That I just can’t see.
Editor’s Note: This op-ed was submitted by Phillip Burns. Burns is Coordinator of Volunteer Management at The University of Alabama Center for Service and Leadership.