Civil Rights

Talkers vs. doers: Time to ignore the Kaepernicks of the world

Colin Kaepernick

When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem, to protest what he described as a nation that “oppresses” its minority populations, he illustrated the deep division in American life in 2016.

But probably not in the way he intended to. Kaepernick’s ostentatious and self-aggrandizing stunt underscores how we’re now divided into a nation of Talkers — those who claim to see a problem and seek to launch an endless “conversation” about it — and a nation of Doers — those who see a problem and take action to address it.

{mosads}Kaepernick is an example of the classic Talker. A gifted athlete who has risen to the heights of his profession, he is paid tens of millions of dollars to play what is fundamentally a game for children, for the diversion and delight of fans nationwide.

Like far too many highly paid, pampered celebrities, Kaepernick has evidently deluded himself into believing his commendable success in the entertainment field makes him a moral beacon, a voice for the downtrodden. He’s mistaken. Colin Kaepernick is nothing more than a Talker, someone who sacrifices nothing and takes no action to address actual social needs.

By contrast, the best illustration of the Doer Nation right now can be found in the battered southern state of Louisiana, where earlier this month torrential rains resulted in a catastrophic flooding disaster. Communities were destroyed, lives and livelihoods lost, and tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

Against this forbidding backdrop of human suffering, the Doers of the Bayou State didn’t remain seated — they stepped up.

The so-called “Cajun Navy,” a spontaneously organized array of volunteers in small sporting boats who performed heroically during the Hurricane Katrina disaster a decade ago, sprang into action to help with rescue, recovery and relocation efforts. Members of the National Guard deployed to coordinate and support emergency efforts. Churches, communities and neighbors pulled together in a web of mutual support and reinforcement.

In one particularly compelling video circulated widely online, a group of men struggle to rescue a woman and her dog trapped in a car that is rapidly submerging into the water. As the car sinks, one of the men leaps into the water, at great risk to himself, to help the woman and her beloved pet to the surface.

One wonders when watching scenes like this if the comfortable Talkers like Colin Kaepernick, paid millions of dollars to sit on a bench, have any idea what true courage, humility, service and sacrifice look like.

My own military experience taught me a lot about the difference between the Doers and Talkers. Leading a combat platoon in Afghanistan a decade ago, I saw a group of young men from a range of backgrounds, races and religions pulling together in spite of their differences.

Many of the men I served with came from underprivileged backgrounds. Had they chosen to do so, they probably could have elected to see themselves as victims of oppression. But that would have required them to be Talkers, rather than Doers, and they didn’t have time for that. It wasn’t in their nature, anyway.

That’s an outlook captured nicely by another NFL player, Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers here in my home state of Pennsylvania. Like me, Villanueva served as an infantry officer in Afghanistan. His perspective on the privileged Kaepernick’s protest should be required reading for Talkers everywhere.

“I agree that America is not perfect, I agree there are lot of issues with minorities in this country, I agree we should do something about it,” Villanueva told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down when the national anthem of the country that is providing you freedom and providing you $60 million a year is the best way to do it when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and protecting our freedom for less than $20,000 a year.”

It’s unfortunately true that the Talkers get a lot of attention in today’s world. Political figures of all stripes who make bold promises and fail to deliver; arrogant celebrities and sports figures who tediously lecture the rest of us on our ostensible shortcomings; journalists and media players who delight in sowing polarization and division. One can’t help but notice that none of their sanctimonious chatter ever brings any real solutions to our challenges.  

That’s because it’s the Doers who are making the real difference in our nation today. Perhaps it’s time to give them more of our attention, and far less to the likes of Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the Talking class.

Parnell is a retired U.S. Army Infantry Captain who served in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He is the author of the national bestseller, “Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan.”


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Tags Afghanistan War civil rights Colin Kaepernick National Football League San Francisco Star Spangled Banner United States

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