Colin Kaepernick isn’t alone in challenging discrimination

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San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid (35) and Colin Kaepernick (7) take a knee during the National Anthem prior to their season opener against the Los Angeles Rams in 2016. | Daniel Gluskoter/AP Images for Panini

Let’s, just for a moment, put aside our feelings — no matter how strong — about quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s ongoing silent protest during the playing of the national anthem before 49ers games. His protest is over the treatment of African Americans by police, but, for now, his cause is not the relevant issue.  Breaching protocol, breaking a (moral) promise and public dissent are.

Consider this: The biggest American sports civil-rights protesters right now are not young, idealistic, rogue athletes such as Kaepernick and those following his lead on various pro, college and high school teams, but massive, conservative establishment entities known as the National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

How so?

On Monday, the NCAA announced it was pulling seven of this season’s championships from North Carolina — including the opening rounds of the men’s basketball tournament, the D-I women’s soccer championship, the Division II men’s baseball championship and the D-I women’s lacrosse championship — because of the state’s passage of a law in March that critics say discriminates against LGBT people.

Named the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also House Bill 2 — or HB2, for short — the law requires transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. None of this ‘‘identifies with’’ or ‘‘preference for’’ nonsense for North Carolina. Seems harmless enough, right? Wrong.

Famed Duke men’s hoops coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose school is in Durham, North Carolina, already stated a month ago that the bill was ‘‘embarrassing.’’ Coach K said this after Albany backed out of a scheduled November game against the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium this season. Meanwhile, the Vermont women’s basketball team canceled a December game against North Carolina in protest.

And the NBA?

That monolithic empire has said, ‘‘Screw you,’’ to North Carolina over HB2 and moved its 2017 All-Star Game, which was scheduled to be played in Charlotte, to New Orleans. Think this will hurt the city and state?  Only to the tune of an estimated $100 million lost in revenue.

It’s also worth noting that five states and many cities across the United States abruptly have prohibited travel to North Carolina for public employees and representatives of their public institutions. It’s likely this may encompass athletes and sports staff, including coaches, trainers and the like.

This is not trivial stuff.  Economic protesting and boycotting from huge empires — with even a traditional old-boy exec such as NCAA president Mark Emmert stating, ‘‘Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sport or even compete for championships’’ — well, it does some damage.

Which brings us back to Kaepernick.

The hatred spewed toward him and his type has been severe.

There was Team USA coach John Tortorella saying that any player who sits on the bench during the national anthem at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey in Toronto ‘‘will sit there the rest of the game.’’

Tougher than that was the announcer at a high school game in McKenzie, Alabama, who said over the public-address system to any players who might be considering protesting, ‘‘You can line over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you since they’re taking shots for you.’’

It’s a funny thing that just about the only place you’ll ever hear ‘‘The Star-Spangled Banner’’ is at a sporting event. The reverence toward it only seems to come when someone does not honor it with the ‘‘appropriate’’ respect.

It is considered almost de rigueur, for instance, to scream and make as much noise as possible near the end of the anthem whenever it is sung at Blackhawks games. There was a time when that would’ve been considered obscene.

But times change. As do symbols and the way we perceive them.

The red, white and blue worn on so many modern-day pieces of clothing — including the supposedly hilarious pajamas and suits worn every now and then by the Joe Maddon-led Cubs — would’ve been wildly offensive 50 years ago.

Protest, in so many ways, is the essence of America. You protest what you see as unfairness, and you reap the consequences, which could mean losing your job, being spat upon, getting arrested or — in the  case of the NCAA and NBA — patting your chest in satisfied self-congratulation.

Yes, teams should remain united. But think of Kaepernick and his small gesture. Then think about our country’s formation.

The United States of America was started by rebels, protesters ready to die for their beliefs. Had they lost, George Washington and his men would’ve been hung as traitors and cowards.

The Republic will hold despite, or because of, citizen protests.

This is something of which we all can be proud.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.


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