Colin Kaepernick

An open letter from American military veterans in support of Colin Kaepernick

There are veterans who not only agree with Kaepernick’s right to protest, but also with how he did it

U.S. Army veteran Richard Allen Smith felt like he was walking with a rock in his shoe all day. In the aftermath of Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, Smith heard a lot about how he had been disrespected by what the San Francisco 49ers quarterback had done and said from a lot of folks who never served in the armed forces.

Kaepernick has been sitting during the singing of The Star Spangled Banner the entire preseason, although it was only noticed last Friday when he was dressed to play. In an exclusive interview with NFL.com’s Steve Wyche, Kaepernick explained his protest: “I am not going to stand up to 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.”

Smith said that people burning the quarterback’s jersey “with the troops and veterans being the reason seemed ridiculous.” Being used wasn’t a new feeling. Smith said politicians and corporations often use the military and its servicemen and women for promotion. That leaves some veterans, like Smith, feeling like props for people who haven’t made the sacrifice, but want to cloak themselves in their credibility.

By writing this letter, which was written on Medium, it was an opportunity for him and other vets to counter that rationale. Although the 31-year-old works as a media strategist with the National Education Association, the letter was thought of, created and crafted as something entirely outside of his job and among some of Smith’s friends and colleagues.

One of the most important things about the letter is the diversity of the people signing it and the reasons that they are putting their names on it.

“I wanted to put something out there in the world … to say that ‘There are veterans who not only agree with Colin Kaepernick’s right to do that, but also agree with the substance of the action,’ ” Smith said. “And are willing to stand up and say Black Lives Matter and this is an important issue that we need to address in our country.

“This is an incredibly diverse list of people. I didn’t know how many signatures I was going to get – if I’m going to get five or 10 signatures on this letter. … There’s diversity in service – every branch of the service is represented here – there are black people, white people, Latinos, a Native American person on here. Gay veterans, straight veterans, female veterans, male veterans from both coast to southeast, to southwest, the heartland, pretty much any sort of identity you can imagine, it’s signed onto this letter in the form of one person or more.”


In 1947, former Army officer Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson experienced taunts, epithets, and threats of violence for simply standing up to the status quo of segregation in America.

Since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick engaged in a silent protest to bring attention to the state of emergency facing people of color in America, a chorus of detractors have lined up to denounce his stand, or more accurately his sit. Fans have burned his jersey. A presidential candidate suggested he leave the country. Many have claimed his protest disrespected American veterans.

Jackie Robinson isn’t here today to tell us what he would think of Kaepernick’s protest. But he did convey the same sentiment about the national anthem as Kaepernick in his 1972 autobiography, writing, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”

As military veterans, we write to express our support for the tradition of advocacy by athletes that is embodied by Jackie Robinson and carried on by Colin Kaepernick.

For generations, American athletes have used their public voice to force our collective attention towards the crises and issues that challenge our national conscience. Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Ariyana Smith, the Minnesota Lynx, the Missouri Tigers football team, and stars across professional sports declaring that #BlackLivesMatter, are all part of a brave tradition of protest by athletes. Far from an anomaly, athletes leading on social change has been the norm in America. The right for those athletes, and all Americans, to protest is one we all pledged to defend with our lives if necessary. Far from disrespecting our troops, there is no finer form of appreciation for our sacrifice than for Americans to enthusiastically exercise their freedom of speech.

While we would not all personally choose to protest in a manner identical to Kaepernick, we respect and honor his choice, and whole heartedly join him in stating unequivocally that BLACK LIVES MATTER. The current state of affairs for people of color in America is unsustainable and unacceptable. According to analysis by the Washington Post, black people in America are two and a half times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans. Far too often, people of color are dying at the hands of law enforcement personnel in the streets, our jails, and their homes. Indictments are rare and convictions are essentially nonexistent.

This status quo outrages us as men and women who raised our right hands and pledged to defend, with our lives if necessary, a Constitution that proclaims intent to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,” and “secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Those ideals are simply not being upheld for all Americans.

As veterans, we implore all Americans to find your own way to challenge this status quo and advocate for “a more perfect union.” Your method of protest may not be to refrain from the traditions surrounding our national symbols, and it doesn’t have to be. You have the same right as Colin Kaepernick to choose whether and how to advocate, a right we support and served for. However you choose to use your voice, please do so with an understanding that many veterans do not condemn the protest of activists like Jackie Robinson, Colin Kaepernick and everyday Americans seeking justice. Indeed, we see no higher form of patriotism.

Eric Baker

United States Army Veteran


Bill Barton

United States Air Force Veteran


Robert Bateman

United States Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Jason Bensley

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Stephen Benson

United States Navy Veteran

Vietnam War


Keith Boyea

United States Air Force Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Operation Enduring Freedom


Xavier Burgos

United States Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom


Tony Camerino

United States Air Force Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Stephanie Driessel

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


LeighAnn Dunn

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


David Ramiro Duran

United States Army Veteran


Robin Eckstein

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Rick Hegdahl

United States Navy Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Chris Holman

United States Army Veteran


Melanie Howie

United States Air Force Veteran


Mitchell Howie

United States Air Force Veteran


Keith Jeffreys

United States Army Veteran


Tara Jones

United States Navy Veteran

Gulf War Era


Jason Macon

United States Marine Corps Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Lamar Mapp

United States Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom


Brian McGough

United States Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Neal McGough

United States Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom


Andrew Nixon

United States Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom


Parker Ormsby

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Operation Enduring Freedom


Matt Osborne

United States Army Veteran


Jackie Rodgers

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Terron Sims II

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Richard Allen Smith

United States Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom


Shannon Smyth

United States Air Force Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom


Ryan Sullivan

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Operation Enduring Freedom


Mike Stark

United States Marine Corps Veteran


Armondo Telles

United States Marine Corps Veteran


Catherine Trombley

United States Air Force Veteran


Colm Walker

United Staes Army Veteran

Operation Enduring Freedom


Bobby Wise

United States Army Veteran

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.

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