Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ve heard of Colin Kaepernick. After a breakout performance last year, leading his team to the Super Bowl, Kaepernick’s name is still on the tip of every fan/sportscaster’s tongue. Kap’s protest of sitting/kneeling during the National Anthem has sparked countless conversations over protest, America’s racial climate, and the role of athletes in politics. Everyone can’t help but voice their opinion, and somehow the issue has turned dichotomous — either you support the flag/National Anthem or you support Kaepernick. Nuance has left the building.
So, What Exactly Happened?
On September 14th, 2016, Kaepernick sat on the bench while the National Anthem played – but no one noticed, because it was pre-season. Then, Jennifer Lee Shan of Niners Nation tweeted a photo of the players during the National Anthem and the internet broke – people noticed Kaepernick sitting and finally asked why. Kap explained his decision to sit during the anthem concisely, citing police violence and racial tensions rising in this country, as well as explaining his role in our political sphere: “This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that cant.”
Then the unthinkable happened: players joined him, and people lost their minds. Over the next few weeks, Eric Reid, Brandon Marshall, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills, Jelani Jenkins, Marcus Peters, Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, Eli Harold, Antoine Bethea, Robert Quinn, Kenny Britt and countless others joined this protest by sitting, kneeling or raising a fist during the National Anthem. But did you know their names already, have you heard them being spoken about like Kaepernick? Unless you live on football messaging boards, you probably haven’t.
NFL players aren’t the only ones joining this growing movement. SBNation did a piece on various sports protests, reminding us about soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who took a knee during the National Anthem. She explained that as a gay American, she knows “what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.” Or the entire WNBA Indiana Fevers, who all linked arms and knelt during the anthem just one week after Kaepernick’s initial sit-down. High school and college sports are taking note as well; the HBCU Howard cheerleaders knelt during “the Star Spangled Banner,” while the football players raised their fists, and the entire Garfield High School football team took a knee during the anthem as well. Even music performers are participating, such as the Honor Band kneeling before the the Oakland Athetics’ game, or the East Carolina University band members kneeling while playing the National Anthem; or Rico Lavelle, who after singing the National Anthem, knelt with his fist raised and his eyes cast down.
If so many players, performers, and fans are participating in this, then why do we only know it as Colin Kaepernick’s protest? Well, he’s famous, black, and opinionated – surprise, surprise, people don’t know what to do with all that. Twitter icon and journalist Shaun King has called for a boycott of the NFL due to its treatment of Kaepernick this season. If you haven’t heard, after going free-agent, Colin Kaepernick wasn’t signed to a team this year – meaning no team chose him, negotiated a contract and allowed him to play. Even football royalty Tom Brady has said Kap is a “great young quarterback…he’s certainly qualified. I hope he gets a shot.” Well, it looks like he won’t this season, because America is still racist and scared of a black man protesting. It’s a fact that Colin Kaepernick is an amazing player. As Steven Ruiz from For The Win/USA Today said, “Kaepernick is one of the 30 most talented quarterbacks on this planet. He has experience in multiple systems. He is a better quarterback now than he was when the 49ers gave him a $114 million contract in 2014.”
America Has A History Of Protest in Sports? Say What?
Besides the fact that this country was literally founded by protests, seeing a professional athlete use their podium to make a stance on a current political issue shouldn’t be shocking – really, it’s been going on for like ever. Mahita Gajanan from Time.com shows the history of protest in sports: Remember when Muhammed Ali refused to be drafted to the Vietnam War? Or when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended in 1996 for not standing during the National Anthem, stating the flag was a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny” – Kaepernick isn’t an iota as radical when explaining his politics, and yet you know his name. Or how about the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where John Carlos and Tommie Smith famously raised their fists while runner-up John Carlos wore an “Olympic Project for Human Rights” badge? In 2014, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts in remembrance of Eric Garner, whose famous last words became a rallying cry for so many. You might not have heard about Ariyana Smith, of the Knox College basketball team, walking onto the court with her fist raised and laying on the floor during the National Anthem for exactly four and a half minutes – in case you forgot, Michael Brown’s body was left on the streets of Ferguson for four and a half hours. Carlos Delgado of the Toronto Blue Jays even sat in the dugout during “God Bless America” in 2004.
So, what’s different now? Well, Kaepernick is young, black and a quarterback for a winning NFL team – he already had our attention, and he is using that attention to bring light to a dark subject in our country: Police brutality of African American citizens. Kap was very clear about what his protest meant, stating again and again that he wanted to be a voice for the voiceless mass of assaulted, profiled, jailed, and killed African American citizens. Then, the weekend of September 23rd and 24th, 2017 happened – and oh my goodness, sports will never be the same again. LeBron James called the President a “bum” while we all nodded in agreement; Steph Curry was uninvited to the White House via Twitter and gave us all a lesson in class; dozens and dozens of players knelt, linked arms or stayed in the locker room during the National Anthem; oh and let’s not forget, the President of the United States called protestors a “son of a bitch” without blinking an eye.
Needless to say, this weekend broke record numbers for protest in sports, and anyone who cares about the racial climate of this country and is a sports fan gleamed with pride all day Sunday. Countless football players, fans, owners, and National Anthem singers protested in their own way. Whether it’s kneeling, linking arms, staying in the locker room, or stretching on the sidelines – one clear message was recieved. We cannot be silent about this any longer. The dangerous racial landscape of this country is crumbling around us, and it is time to act in any way you can. So, boycott the NFL, or kneel during the National Anthem, start a community police group in your town or city, but whatever you do – remember this isn’t just about Colin Kaepernick, and it never has been; it’s about all of us.
Header Photo via Flickr/Jumpy News
First Photo via youtube.com/HNT Global
Second Photo Via Twitter/@KingJames
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