Colin Kaepernick didn’t vote; don’t vilify him for it

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Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback and national lightning rod who set off a massive controversy earlier this year when he began sitting during the national anthem in protest of a system that he says “”oppresses people of color,” didn't vote on Election Day. The man who wants reform ignored America's most effective way of getting it and for that he's losing support from those who've been in his corner since the beginning. He shouldn't be.

Here's what Kaepernick told reporters of his decision to abstain on Election Day:

“I've been very disconnected from the systematic oppression as a whole. So, for me, it's another face that's going to be the face of that system of oppression. And to me, it didn't really matter who went in there. The system still remains intact that oppresses people of color.”

Kaepernick has been ripped in local, state and national op-eds, with the consensus saying that his desire to affect change with protest is at odds with his refusal to affect change at the ballot box. It might be. Stephen A. Smith called the quarterback a “flaming hypocrite” for it. He might be.

Does it matter? Colin Kaepernick's right to protest can take many forms and if not casting a ballot is his means of objection this week, why is that any different than what he does on Sundays? All this talk about how you don't have the right to complain if you don't vote is merely the guilt tripping that social media does best. We all have the right – that's the point.

Can you find contradictions on Kaepernick's part? Certainly. Plenty of people found similar fault with both presidential candidates and still voted. (Kaepernick said both Donald Trump and Hillary Cliton were “proven liars” trying to appear “less racist” than the other.) And in California, Kaepernick could have looked beyond the top of the ticket at the down-ballot measures, five of which are tangentially related to the very thing he's protesting. Decisions about early parole, juvenile trials, the death penalty and marijuana legalization were among them.

But believing Kaepernick should have voted and calling him a sell-out because he didn't is itself political hypocrisy. How can anyone defend Colin Kaepernick's right to protest during the anthem – to do what he believes in – and then turn around and criticize a protest of another form? You don't get to pick and choose which rights someone should or shouldn't exercise.

Does no one realize the irony of their protest of the protest? The one-time supporters of Kaepernick, who've turned against him after his Tuesday stand, are staunch believers in freedom, inclusiveness and the rights of everybody. Except, it seems, when that freedom is at odds with their own beliefs. What's so tolerant about that?

The freedom to vote is one of the greatest privileges in what I still, even with all our flaws, consider to be the greatest nation that's ever existed. Not voting is an indirect snub of the men and women who have fought to maintain the liberty that allows us to cast a secret ballot in a representative democracy. My sister fought for that right and my brother-in-law, currently deployed overseas, still does. The least I can do – literally the least – is exercise one of the fundamental privileges of our nation by going to my polling precinct. So I did and brought my young daughter with me so I could tell her about it when she's old enough to cast her first ballot.

But my voting doesn't give me the right to look down upon somebody for not doing the same. Nor does it mean Colin Kaepernick's continued protests ring hollow because he refused to partake in a system he says is oppressive. That's his call. I can't pretend to understand what Colin Kaepernick thinks so how can I decry what Colin Kaepernick does?

You don't have to like it. You don't have to like him. You don't even have to respect him. But this is America and it's our responsibility as citizens to respect somebody's right to make us feel that way.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)