The Bills will play at home this week, against the San Francisco 49ers. It should be a fairly unremarkable game, with most analysts picking the Bills to win by a heavy margin. But for the first time since the controversy in the preseason, Colin Kaepernick will be starting. And that means he will continue to make a statement by refusing to stand for the National Anthem. In our back yard.

I’ll be perfectly honest- I’m not super comfortable seeing people sit during the national anthem. It’s less clear to me why that is. My best guess is because the anthem is a patriotic ritual which neither I nor anyone I know have ever taken issue with. Rituals are a powerful force, and the anthem is certainly that. Think about how you feel as you go through the motions of standing, turning to face, hand over heart, the voices rising together. It’s powerful. It’s almost as if we are required for that space of time to see our country only for its numerous supremacies, and not for any of its flaws, current or historical.

It is on this holy ground, so to speak, that many feel Kaepernick has sat. But it’s clear that Kaepernick put a lot of thought into whether and how to make his statement, and even though many of us probably disagree with how he chose to make it, I think we owe at least a modicum of intentional thought before responding.

One of the greatest things about our country is our many freedoms, including the freedom to dissent, and the freedom of speech. North Koreans, lacking these freedoms, are compelled by the state regardless of their true feelings to put on outwardly patriotic displays. I’m not convinced that are any better if we merely require it by social pressure.

Kaepernick feels that something very important is not right in our country right now, and it’s so critical to him that he uses his platform as an NFL quarterback to say it. He’s not alone. As white man, I have had the benefit of being able to largely ignore racial issues until the last few years, when two things collided in my life. One was the advent of the Black Lives Matter social movement, and the other was that I became the father of a black son. Suddenly some theoretical and abstract concepts became concrete concerns about my son’s statically much higher chance to be killed in America. As if to highlight these fears, Ugandan born Alfred Olango was shot dead by police in San Diego on Sept 27th. Maybe there’s something in what Kaepernick and others have to say that would be worth listening to.

Regardless of what you think about Kaepernick and his statement, how we respond as Bills fans and as (mostly) residents of Western NY really does matter. This is the first regular season game and the first game on the east coast that Kaep has started, and the media will be keying in on the loudest mouths and the most divisive rhetoric to pad their columns and quick take clips. Must we give them the satisfaction?

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