- The Washington Times
Thursday, September 1, 2016


Marketing is mostly hype. You’re not supposed to believe much of it, and nobody plays the hype game better than the occasional intelligent professional athlete. Even some of the dumb ones are pretty good at it.

Dizzy Dean, the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame pitcher remembered for his fast ball, a talent for imaginative boasting and a natural Arkansas wit, had a caution for big-talking marketers: “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” He didn’t have much truck for braggarts who couldn’t do it.

Neither did Muhammed Ali, who boasted that “I am the greatest,” and proved it on several memorable occasions on every continent that mattered. Like ol’ Diz, he really was the greatest.

But there are others, like Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er quarterback who talks a big game from the bench, where he has taken up permanent residence. The only thing he’s getting on the bench is a backside full of splinters.

Nevertheless, Mr. Kaepernick is trying to work sitting down, especially when the band strikes up the national anthem. He’s in the twilight of a brief and moderately successful career, and he’s trying to keep the marketing going by stoking a little controversy on the sports pages, where legends go to die.

His not standing up for the “Star-Spangled Banner” upsets a lot of people, which is the point of the exercise. He’s learning that nothing recedes like success, and holds to the show-biz gospel that bad publicity is better than no pub at all. He should remember the example of Al Jolson, “the world’s greatest entertainer,” who famously told wildly applauding audiences that “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” and had the good judgment to die young (at 64) before audiences decided they had, in fact, seen enough.

Mr. Kaepernick is rubbing his affront to the flag and the anthem in the faces of the fans to protest, so he insists, the way black folks are treated in America. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” He says he’ll keep tripping over those bodies until there’s “significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent in this country. Then I’ll stand.”

The country, alas, is not likely ever to meet Mr. K’s exacting standard. He’s 28 and he won’t recognize himself 10 years on. He’s the son of a mother who had the misfortune of being born white and a father, praise be, who was born black. He was raised by white foster parents, and if he has said very much nice about them it has escaped wide notice. White lives don’t matter. But you never know.

Football fans, like all fans, generally do not support snide snubbery of either flag or anthem. The anthem was originally an English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” which almost nobody sober can properly sing. The song was frequently sung at a London drinking club as a tribute to the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, and the club was dissolved when it made the mistake of inviting the Duchess of Devonshire to one of its meetings. She primly observed that some of the comic songs “were not exactly calculated for the entertainment of ladies,” and after the singers were restrained several members resigned, “one after the other.” The club was dissolved.

A century later the tune was revived, and Francis Scott Key was inspired by the assault on Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor to write a poem — the first words being, “Oh, say” — and it became the national anthem in 1931, beating out the much easier to sing “America, the Beautiful.” (“Dixie” would have been nice, too.)

Angry football fans have resorted to burning Mr. K’s jersey. This, too, is a tribute to his marketing skills because fans have to buy the jersey to burn it, and he gets a cut of the proceeds.

The internet has been aflame, as it usually is, these last few days with sneers and insults aimed at the man who takes such pride in sitting down on the job. Some thoughtful fans, who hardly admire how Mr. K celebrates his cause, nevertheless take appropriate pride in the unique American law and hallowed tradition he scorns.

Indeed, the greater glory of America is that better men than he have died to preserve and protect the All-American right of Colin Kaepernick to be a jerk.

Wesley Pruden is editor-in-chief emeritus of The Times.

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