San Fransisco 49er's quarterback Colin Kaepernick is once again starting the uncomfortable conversation about race in the United States. 

Kaepernick, 28, has made international headlines when he opted not to stand during the playing of the national anthem before pre-season NFL games as a peaceful protest against the increasing number of deaths of African Americans during altercations with police officers. In addition, Kaerpernick will be donating the first $1 million he earns this season to inner city communities to help combat racial inequality. Kaepernick has said that he hopes that his protest will open up the conversation about the growing racial divide in the USA. 

However, the message seems to be getting lost, with more people twisting the protest into the belief that Kaepernick is anti-American, anti-military, and desecrating the flag. It's been said that he shouldn't be protesting during NFL games, as that is not the time or place for political or religious messages (despite fans giving support to former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow for taking to his knees to pray before games). Mr. Kaepernick should be protesting on his own time, and not during the anthem, as he's only exaggerating the problem. Why are we talking about this? It's only making things worse! What about the soldiers who died for their country? He's disrespecting what they fought for.

The problem with that is that Mr. Kaepernick's protest is EXACTLY what brave men and women fought for. They fought for people to be free to speak their beliefs freely and exercise their right to peacefully stand up for what they believe in. During the riots in Baltimore, many claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement was losing their message and the key is to protest peacefully. Kaepernick is protesting peacefully and now people are worried about time and place. The best time and place is anywhere and anytime. Kaepernick is exercising his right to speak his beliefs. He is not using vulgar hate speech. He is not swearing or uttering threats. He is standing up by sitting down. By sitting down, he is forcing us to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, another message that has been lost. Before anyone screams "All Lives Matter," you're right; they do. But let's look at this another way; if you're out to dinner and Joe wasn't served food and says he didn't get his meal, you wouldn't turn to Joe and say "We all want food Joe," and go back to eating. Nothing changed; Joe still doesn't have food. Saying that black lives matter does not mean that police lives do not matter. You can support both groups. It's not one vs. the other. Black Lives Matter is not saying that police are bad; it's saying that sometimes, there are a few bad officers who are making the majority of officers (who are good) look bad. Sometimes in life, uncomfortable conversations need to happen. Hiding from it only drags it out and nothing gets better. Kaepernick  is using his celebrity to encourage us to have this conversation and he's doing it in a way that is non-violent.

The thing about free speech is that those who talk about it the most want only the free speech that they approve of. That's not how it works. I'm sure Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka would love to avoid hearing people say that they aren't really married and their family is somehow an abomination because they are a same sex couple raising a family, but it is the right of those who feel that way to say it. I'm sure that Lea Michele would love for people to stop telling her that she needs to stop mourning for her deceased boyfriend Cory Monteith because he was an addict and doesn't deserve empathy, but people have the right to tell her so. The people who say "All Lives Matter" have the right to say so . You have the right to say that you do not agree with Colin Kaepernick's decision. But that doesn't take away his right as an American citizen to peacefully protest in defense of a cause that he supports.

So, instead of looking at the action, let's focus on the why. Why is Colin Kaepernick protesting? Why is he choosing to protest and what has happened that has caused a man to lose faith in his nation? Stop focusing on who he might offend or is it appropriate and focus on the WHY. As soon as America starts to talk about why Kaepernick feels the need to protest, that's when change happens. No one ever changed the world by following the status quo. Change only happens when we stand up for ourselves and use our voice. Colin Kaepernick is using his and has once again shown the world that sometimes the loudest voices are heard when you sit and say nothing.

Published by Mary-Helen Clark