The Conscientious Objectors: Colin and Muhammad

By Matt Johnson

Colin Kaepernick certainly isn’t the first athlete to question the validity of the American character, nor will he probably be the last. Where he now stands, several athletes have stood before. And of course the most famous is probably Muhammad Ali.

Muhammad Ali, who was banned from boxing for refusing Army induction during the Vietnam war, cited religious reasons for not serving. What was his punishment? As History.com explains,

On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years.

Again, he was citing religious reasons for his decision not to serve. But eventually, the United States Supreme Court would overturn his ban from boxing and he would fight again. The Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon reported the 8-0 decision in 1971. The Court found his objection to military service be reasonable. As the The Register-Guard reports,

In the unsigned decision, the court said the government has now fully conceded that Ali’s beliefs are based upon ‘religious training and belief’ as set out in previous conscientious objector cases.

The court said the record shows that the boxer’s beliefs ‘are surely no less religiously based’ than those in previous cases.

In the recent case of Colin Kaepernick, he exclaimed his objections for not standing for the national anthem and the honoring of the national anthem because of the treatment of Americans of African heritage here in the United States. And in response, he faced a “swift, emotional, collective, and punitive” rebuking from social media constitutionalists in an ironically Ali type of flurry.

Everything from his character to his patriotism to his religious beliefs were attacked. Nothing was off-limits. But what were Kaepernick’s objections? As the Chicago Tribune reported his interaction with the NFL media during an interview,

I am not going to stand up and 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.

Let’s set aside for a moment Kaepernick’s statements and ask the question, how similar or dissimilar are his remarks to those of Muhammad Ali? And are United States citizens suffering from historical amnesia? Well according to alphahistory.com, Kaepernick’s statements compared to those of Ali’s are pretty mild. One must imagine how these words from Ali would resonate today,

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.

It’s clear Ali doesn’t mince words. He means what he means and he’s ready to face the trials and tribulations for his actions. In other words, he’s ready to take responsibility for his actions, and he did. And what ought to stick out to people are his stances: religious objections, treatment of traditionally disenfranchised groups, and the sacrifice of his career for those principles. As a protestor of the state, Kaepernick’s in good company.

These similarities, although separated by time, are important because there are online publications attempting to question Kaepernick’s patriotism and devalue his stance because of his association with his fiancée, Nessa Diab, because she is a muslim. There are others who are attempting to make similar arguments because he is an athlete making millions of dollars. It’s as though his profession prevents him from having an opinion or taking a political stand. And one must ask him or herself, how would Muhammad Ali be treated today given the current political climate?

And further yet, there are some people who are saying Kaepernick should leave the country or go back to Africa for an action that is protected by the first amendment. By the way, political protest is a constitutional right. Standing for the national anthem and honoring the national ensign are cultural norms, and that’s not disputable. And there is another problem with this intellectually vacant logic. Kaepernick is a home-grown American. The kid was born in Milwaukee. That’s Milwaukee, Wisconsin for you social media constitutionalists.

But since we’re in the exiling mood, let’s send this home. First, what country shall we exile him to for practicing his first amendment right? And when shall we schedule this exile for?

And since we’re at it, who else should we exile? Surely there are others who have offended our social norms and feelings, because standing for the national anthem and honoring the national ensign is a social norm, granted a deeply embedded one based on a certain set of moral foundations; whereas, not standing for the national anthem is a constitutionally protected right. So we shall ask ourselves the question again. Baring constitutionally protected rights, who shall we put on the boat next to Kaepernick and where shall we send them to?

Post your suggestions of who shall be Blacklisted and where shall they be sent to in the comments section below. Our staff will be compiling the data to send to the appropriate authorities for immediate action. Can’t allow any Conscientious Objectors to penatrate our American ranks.


Matt Johnson is an economics and science writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook as well. 

Photo credit: Cliff



Copyright ©2016 – The Systems Scientist






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