Ruth Bader Ginsburg (sort of) apologizes for calling Kaepernick’s protest “stupid”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pretty much been elevated to progressive legend through her lifetime of advocacy for women’s and voting rights. You don’t get catchy nicknames like “the notorious RBG” or a shrine of memes dedicated to you by doing nothing, after all. But in an interview with Katie Couric earlier this month, the Supreme Court justice proved no progressive legend is above a gaffe or two when she wrote off NFL football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest as “stupid.” Ginsburg has since apologized (sort of).

Initially, she was asked her thoughts about Kaepernick’s choice to protest systemic racism and police brutality by kneeling as the National Anthem plays before games. Ginsburg’s take on this: “If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive.” She told Couric, “If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that. What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”

Many were rightfully outraged by Ginsburg’s comments, which did not even acknowledge the purpose of Kaepernick’s protest or how it has raised awareness about the very real issues of racial injustice in policing. It was a particularly surprising blow from a SCOTUS justice who has dedicated herself to advocacy for racial equality. Kaepernick himself responded to Ginsburg’s comments last week, telling The Toronto Star it was “disappointing to hear a Supreme Court justice call a protest against injustices and oppression ‘stupid, dumb.'”

Kaepernick additionally told the newspaper her comments showed him “more and more truth how this has been approached by people in power and white people in power in particular,” which is a valid point. It would be unfair to write Ginsburg off as a wholly ignorant racist, but she’s undeniably privileged from a racial and socioeconomic standpoint, and this is inevitably and unfortunately going to skew her views at least occasionally. By no means should privilege justify ignorance, but at the very least, Ginsburg came forward with a statement on Friday  to make amends:

“Some of you have inquired about a book interview in which I was asked how I felt about Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who refused to stand for the national anthem. Barely aware of the incident or its purpose, my comments were inappropriately dismissive and harsh. I should have declined to respond.”

Sure, it’s still not perfect that Ginsburg thinks she should have just not responded rather than expressed support, and that she came short of expressing support for the protest now that she supposedly knows what it’s all about.

Overall, this was a pretty disappointing episode. It doesn’t exactly tear down Ginsburg’s brilliant progressive legacy, but it certainly highlights how no one is perfect or should be sweepingly placed on a pedestal.