TAMPA — Now what?
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stood up by sitting down for the national anthem.
That has stirred a conversation across the country. Too bad it has been the wrong conversation.
Instead of talking about what is being protested, the national dialogue has been about who is doing the protesting. While half the country is poking holes in Kaepernick the man, there has been little thought given to what Kaepernick is actually saying.
Instead of talking about racial injustice and police brutality and whether all Americans are treated equally, the debate has been almost exclusively over Kaepernick's character and whether he should have done what he did.
That's why there's one hope for what happens next:
That more players follow Kaepernick's actions. That more players refuse to stand for the national anthem.
Then we will look at the message and not the messenger. Then we could get down to the more important discussion of the problems this country has and how we can fix them.
Until then, Kaepernick is alone on an island and too easily dismissed as a lone malcontent stirring the pot because of a personal agenda. If more players follow Kaepernick's lead, maybe his points would be addressed. Then Kaepernick's detractors could quit looking for reasons to be offended and start looking for solutions to our problems.
Interesting how Kaepernick's act has been received. Seems as if every American is fine with the right to protest as long as we agree with the protest and whatever form it takes.
This isn't a buffet, where we can pick and choose which freedoms we want and which ones we want to leave behind. The right to vote for whomever we want or practice whatever religion we want or marry anyone we want also means that every other citizen has the same rights. It also means the freedom to protest must be afforded to everyone, not just to those we agree with.
And that freedom goes to everyone, regardless of their profession, social status or income. Saying Kaepernick shouldn't stand up for what he believes just because he is an athlete and is rich and might not be personally oppressed is to suggest that only certain Americans should be allowed to speak their minds and that is ridiculous.
Then there's this notion that refusing to stand for the anthem means Kaepernick hates this country. Kaepernick never claimed to hate the United States, just certain aspects of it. We all should hate bigotry and racism. To suggest that those things don't exist in our country is naive or purposefully blind to the issues that impact others.
Even many of those who agree that Kaepernick has a right to protest are troubled with his form of protest. Refusing to stand for the anthem is jarring. It's uncomfortable.
And absolutely necessary.
Wearing a T-shirt or speaking on national television, as other athletes have done, is admirable, but hasn't been all that effective in advancing the dialogue.
Many might not like it, but Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the anthem certainly has caught the nation's attention. It's exactly what this country needed.
So now what do we do? Ideally, other athletes follow suit.
A quick tour around the Bucs locker room Monday suggests that NFL players agree Kaepernick has the right to sit down for the anthem, but they do not feel comfortable joining him.
Vincent Jackson, who has close ties to the military, said, "I think everybody is entitled to their right and beliefs, but it's not something I would do.''
Lavonte David said the same. Demar Dotson refused to even discuss the matter. That, too, is their right.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins would not answer whether he would ever consider not standing for the national anthem, but said he believes speaking out is just a start.
"If you really want to make a change, you got to be hands-on,'' Seferian-Jenkins said. "You've got to invest your own time, invest your own resources into creating a better world not only for yourself, but for the people you surround yourself with.''
You could make an argument that merely pointing out problems and making it a national topic — as Kaepernick has done — is a responsible attempt to find solutions. But, yes, Kaepernick's words would carry more weight among some if he also became actively involved in specific causes, something he said he plans on doing.
"Most definitely,'' Kaepernick told reporters. "There are things that I have in the works right now that I'm working on to put together in the future and have come to fruition soon. Those are things that I'll talk about as we get closer to those days.''
In the meantime, here's hoping that others join Kaepernick is his protest. Eagles rookie linebacker Myke Tavarres said Monday that he will sit for the anthem on Thursday, though his agent later said Tavarres changed his mind and would stand during the anthem because he didn't want to be a distraction. It would be especially productive if some of the league's stars joined in. It would help if stars from other sports joined in.
It might increase tensions. It would make for hard conversations. It might make things worse before it got better because more than 200 years of racial troubles are not going to be solved easily or overnight. But this is a movement that needs some movement.
If more players stand up — or, in this case, sit down — perhaps more Americans might recognize that critical problems exist and must be discussed. Perhaps then we can talk about what is being said instead of who is saying it.