It's Unlikely the SF Police Union Gets the Apology They're Demanding from the 49ers and NFL

By Jason Lisk

Colin Kaepernick explained his protest by not standing up during the national anthem, and in part of that explanation said: “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

For the most part, the reaction centered on his choice to stay seated during the national anthem as his form of protest. Drew Brees, for example, focused on the form of protest and not the rationale, stating that it was disrespectful to the flag. Richard Sherman also said he understood the stand, but not the method:

"Obviously, what he meant was in a good place. He wanted to make a stand. Obviously, anytime you don’t stand during the national anthem, people are going to criticize it. And that’s the unfortunate part of it. You can’t ever stand against the flag. A lot of people have sacrificed for it. But there is also a deeper meaning to what he did. He’s talking about the oppression of African Americans in this country. And that has been going on for a long time. I think a lot of the focus has shifted away from his message and shifted to some people, rightfully so, to him taking a stand against the nation, etc., etc."

One group that has turned their focus to the message is the profession that was implicated within that quote from Kaepernick on why he was protesting. The San Francisco Police Union has sent a letter to the NFL and the San Francisco 49ers organization demanding that both apologize for and denounce Kaepernick’s words.

"While the SFPOA acknowledges Mr. Kaepernick’s right to speak his point of view and we stand by that right, we also recognize your organization’s ability to denounce his foolish statements and separate yourself from his actions. As a gesture to build communication and understanding about the law enforcement profession, the SFPOA extends an open invitation to Mr. Kaepernick and to any player or employee from the National Football League to visit the SFPD Academy and partake in any of the simulations that recruits participate in during their training. This will hopefully expose them to a very small fraction of what officers experience daily on the streets of our city. Until then we hope your organizations choose to do the right thing and at least apologize to the many police officers Mr. Kaepernick has disrespected for no apparent reason."

The police union here appears to be asking people to walk a little bit in their shoes. That is the overarching hurdle when it comes to these divisive issues. People from communities where they feel justice is not imparted equally would also like for people who see and hear no problem to consider a different viewpoint.

I would be surprised if the NFL or 49ers took the San Francisco Police Union–which represents officers from a department that was under fire for racist texts that resulted in several case dismissals just this year–up on this demand for an apology and denouncement. Kaepernick may be a unique method of protest. The acts which he is protesting are not a new story over the last few years, even when it comes to athletes.

The St. Louis Police Officers Association demanded punishment for Rams players who signaled “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” following Michael Brown/Ferguson. The NFL refused, and there was a dispute over whether the Rams came close to apologizing. The Cleveland Police Union demanded an apology after wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a “Justice” shirt for Tamir Rice. They were likewise disappointed.

The difference with Kaepernick and those prior acts/demands were that he made his form of protest the national anthem, and a broader statement about what American society tolerates or values, and it wasn’t specific to a particular case of local interest.

There are valid points raised by the police union in its letter, when it says “[t]he law enforcement community cannot be continuously blamed for all of society’s problems, including racial divide, in our country. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t true.”

It goes beyond law enforcement, but this–whether you think he went too far or not–seems to also be where Kaepernick went. His protest went beyond a police protest and wearing a shirt like “Can’t Breathe.” He’s attacking the majority of American society that implicitly endorses or at least tolerates it.

There were zero police convictions in the United States in 2015 for officer-involved killings, according to this Huffington Post article. There were zero police convictions in 2014 as well. The last one was in 2013 for a shooting from 2012. These results come in a nation of more than 300 million, and hundreds of metropolitan areas with a sizable police presence, and where nearly 1,000 people were killed in police interactions a year ago, and the rate was higher this year.

Only an ideologue would believe that 100% of all actions by any group–whether it be something more trivial like coaching decisions, or substantive like police killings–were justified over such a large sample. Most, no doubt are, and the police in many large metropolitan areas are put in tough spots by policies which go way beyond policing. That said, it would be tough for the NFL to apologize for a player’s substantive position that some extra-judicial killings occur in this country (since zero have been recognized in two years), and that the nation implicitly tolerates it as the “cost of doing business.”