Politico: Republicans Still Trying to Make Colin Kaepernick a Campaign Issue

Colin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

As the 2018 campaign season gets underway, Politico notes that some Republican candidates are still using anthem-kneeling former NFL player Colin Kaepernick and his protests as a campaign issue.

In its May 16 piece, Politico mentions candidates such as Indiana’s Todd Rokita and Tennessee’s Diane Black, as those who have used Kaepernick as a political foil in campaign commercials and messages.

For instance, Rokita, who did not win his primary campaign losing to businessman Mike Braun, used images of Colin Kaepernick in a campaign commercial while talking of “The liberal elites disrespecting our flag.”

Another candidate who has focused on Kaepernick’s protests against the country has been Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Diane Black. In her run for the state’s top position, Black announced that she had decided to cancel her NFL season tickets because the league will not put a stop to the anti-American protests.

In a March editorial, Black was quite specific about her position on Kaepernick’s protests:

First, if the protests aren’t about the flag, the anthem or the troops, then why are they occurring during the singing of the national anthem, which honors our flag and our troops?

The quarterback who instigated the protests, Colin Kaepernick, was candid in his intent. He said, ‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.’ His protest was of the flag itself because he believes that the flag represents oppression.

I reject that. The flag represents the freedom we have in this country – freedom unlike any country in the history of the world. Freedom that was earned in blood and sweat and sacrifice. Freedom that demands respect.

In a conversation with Politico, Black also noted that she feels a football game is the wrong time for protests.

“I just don’t believe that’s the venue,” Black said of the protests. “I’m paying to be entertained. I’m not paying to be affronted. Unless you’ve had a husband or a son or someone in the military where you lay awake at night knowing they’re in harm’s way, I don’t think they can understand.”

Politico’s Ben Strauss noted that the issue certainly appeals to Republican voters:

Anecdotally, there is little doubt that the issue energizes Republicans. If you go back to Trump’s speech when he first attacked the players, he was giving a somewhat meandering address. As soon as he mentioned the kneelers, the crowd went wild. I saw the same phenomenon in action when I attended the annual state convention for the Arizona Republican Party earlier this year in Phoenix. Kelli Ward, locked in a primary fight in the race for Senate with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and U.S. Representative Martha McSally, delivered the pledge of allegiance to kick off the meeting. “People in this room always stand for the pledge!” she cried. The crowd of a few hundred Republicans erupted in applause.

Politico also noted that many national polls have found that the majority are not fans of the protests. According to Politico, “a number of polls last year — CBS, HuffPost and CNN, among them — found a majority of respondents opposed the protests rather than supported them.”

The NFL is likely hoping that the issue will fade away, but recent filings by the National Football League Players Association may not allow that to happen.

Just this month the NFLPA noted that it intended to file two grievances against the league over the anthem protests. The player’s group will be filing one case against the Cincinnati Bengals and a second against the league as a whole, to assure players’ right to protest.

The filing against the Bengals is to be on behalf of former San Francisco 49ers player Eric Reid who took a meeting with the team only to find owner Mike Brown grilling him over his plans for more protests.

The second will take on the league itself. It purportedly seeks a “system arbitration” against the league to prevent any team from forcing players to abandon their protests and to stand for the anthem.

While Politico seems to blame Republican candidates for keeping the anthem protest issue alive for political convenience, the league itself is far from having handled it with any finality and the matter is far from over.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.