New U.S. citizen to Kaepernick: Stand up

After 19 years living in the United States, the greatest country in the world, I finally became a U.S. citizen on Aug. 26. Other than my wedding and the birth of my children, this was the happiest day of my life. This was the day that I had dreamed of since I was a little boy obsessed with American sports and culture growing up in Montreal, Canada.

The United States of America afforded me the opportunity to study law and work as a tax attorney in New York City for almost 10 years. I was then able to use that knowledge to start my own successful retirement trust company. Of course, I am not alone. Over the last hundreds of years, millions of newly naturalized citizens have been able to prosper and live the American Dream.

That night while I was going to bed for the first time as a U.S. citizen, Colin Kaepernick, an American professional football player for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem in a game against the Green Bay Packers. When addressing the news media on his protest, Kaepernick stated to NFL.com, "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” He went on to say, “I'll continue to sit. I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there's significant change — and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way it's supposed to — I'll stand."

Kaepernick is a fine quarterback whom I have enjoyed watching over the years. He has been a quarterback in the NFL for more than five years and led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 as a rookie. Kaepernick was also raised by two white parents after his own birth parents were not willing or able to raise him themselves. In addition, he has a net worth of more than $20 million from playing American football.

The Constitution of the United States of America allows Kaepernick every opportunity to protest, complain or dispute almost any social or political perceived wrong within the confines of the law, including not standing for the playing of the national anthem. But that doesn’t make it right.

As a fellow U.S. citizen, I ask: How dare you disrespect the very country that has given you everything you have? The United States was founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I should know, because I studied these exact principles in preparation for my citizenship test. From slavery, to the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, anti-war protests and gay and lesbians rights, America has had its challenges and will continue to have its challenges, just like every other country. However, unlike most other countries, I am positive that the United States will gain strength from its challenges, and they will help it evolve into a stronger and even more democratic, unified country.

As a new citizen of this great country, I can tell Kaepernick that he doesn’t know how lucky he is. Being a U.S. citizen allows him to protest the actions or inactions of his country and government in a very public manner, without risking personal safety or financial security. Just the fact that Kaepernick can publicly and freely protest something as sacred as standing for the national anthem should be enough to awaken his soul and mind to the true greatness of this country. Even though I am a new citizen, I am not naive enough to believe that this country is perfect and that racism does not exist in various forums, including in government agencies. Yet, the last time that I checked, our president of almost the last eight years is African-American, and so are some of our most influential businessman, scholars, artists, musicians, politicians and jurists. To claim, as Kaepernick has, that “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” is plainly ignorant of present-day reality. The United States has come a long way in its fight to treat all citizens equally under the rule of law. The process is ongoing and not always perfect, as we have seen recently in Baton Rouge and across the country.

I applaud Kaepernick for taking on an important social problem and standing up for what he believes in. Standing up for what one believes in and protesting under the law is one of the great virtues of this country, but in order for it to have its intended effect, the protest must be directed at the appropriate source.

If Kaepernick wants to protest police brutality, then by all means he should direct his protest at the police or the appropriate government agencies or individuals. By directing his protest at the Star-Spangled Banner, Kaepernick, who himself is living the American dream, is disrespecting the cultural significance we Americans place on the flag and share as a country. He is undermining the national, cultural and patriotic events that were its foundation. As a new U.S. citizen, his behavior makes me cringe.

I can only hope that as Kaepernick is sitting during the playing of our great national anthem, he remembers that he is allowed to sit because he is in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Adam Bergman is a senior tax partner with the IRA Financial Group and the author of Going Solo: America’s Best Kept Retirement Secret For the Self-Employed.

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