A direct descendant of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner, said she is heartbroken that Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for the anthem as a way to protest social injustice.
“It just broke my heart to think that someone that gets so much money for playing a ballgame, who is half black, half white would do this," said Shirley Carole Isham, a great great great granddaughter of Key’ and whose ancestry was verified by the Daughters of American Revolution in 1977 when she gained membership to the group. “So many of his black race are oppressed, but it’s not by the whites, it’s by their own people. Look who their leaders are, and the president. Has (Barack Obama) done anything for these people?"
Isham, who lives in Longview, Texas, said Kaepernick’s constitutional right to protest in the manner he has is beside the point.
“If he’s not going to honor his country and his countrymen, he’s dishonoring himself,’’ she told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “This tells you an awful lot about him."
In March, Isham said, she spent her 80th birthday at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics for what became The Star Spangled Banner after Key got trapped on a British ship during the War of 1812 before the Americans prevailed.
“When the battle began, he stayed up on that deck all night long praying that the fort would not fall (to the British)," Isham said. “Then at dawn, when all the clouds and the smoke and everything cleared away, he could see our (American) flag flying. And that was the inspiration for the song.
“I cry every time it’s played because I have so much admiration for my grandpa and the national anthem."
Isham said she has seen footage of Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem before the 49ers’ past three games, including on Monday Night Football this week, and criticized his effort to spotlight the oppression of African Americans.
“It's very painful for me,’’ Isham said. “It just blows my mind that somebody like (Kaepernick) would do what he does to dishonor the flag of this country and the national anthem when we have young men and women overseas fighting for this country, people that have died for this country."
Not all descendants of Francis Scott Key share Isham's opinion. Suzanne Key Boyle Herrmann, who is a second cousin of Key, expressed support for Kaepernick.
“He had every right to do what he did,'' said Herrmann, 73, a social worker who lives in Morristown Township, N.J. "And because of what he did it has sparked conversation and conversation is so healthy in this country to have on the issues of equality and rights."
Herrmann said she represented her family in 2014 at the 200th anniversary of Key's writing the national anthem and noted that Key had been a slave owner.
"We as a nation, I think since the anthem was written 202 years ago, have evolved greatly,'' she said. "But I understand protest. I understand how people feel. We have a lot to think about.''