Kaepernarrative in Flight

A little over a year ago, my partners and I embarked on the idea to discuss narrative and its role in the 21st century. We channeled our rear view mirror perspective from Marshall McLuhan and accounted for the present “global village” situation where today, anybody has the ability to initiate a new narrative.

We pulled 50 professionals together at The Hub in Oakland on July 10, 2015, to create a book about Narrative in the 21st Century. That book — Narrative Generation — is now coming to life in more ways than one on September 30, 2016. We could not have anticipated our current Presidential election malaise or the evolution of Black Lives Matter triggered by repeated incidents or the spark of one individual who took a national stage to bring light to a conversation that has been simmering for generations.

The Colin Kaepernick silent protest of the National Anthem represents the epitome of what our research into Narrative uncovered. Narratives have two launch points — as either an initiator or a responder. To initiate a narrative takes a great deal of courage and self sacrifice to think different, to take a stand and to put yourself out there.

“A narrative, takes its cues from the past but in order to be contextual, it must give meaning to the present. The narrative needs to reflect your audience’s values and priorities. If not, Respondents won’t embrace it. A great narrative touches something universal in many people at the same time. When we come in contact with a relatable narrative, it offers us a common perspective to help organize and understand ourselves and the world around us. ”

Excerpt From: Ann Badillo, Tim Donovan, Tobin Trevarthen. “Narrative Generation.”

As we watch the Kaepernick stance unfold before our eyes, we witness the heated debates about the use of the National Anthem as a platform to launch a conversation about racial injustice, broken systems and the need to get things right. His underlying intent had a wider aperture than the lead stories provided.

The major media and public at large vilified Kaepernick and his position. Sides were immediately drawn. Opinions and counter-opinions were sought out and a debate materialized as a result. A thoughtful piece by Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the Washington Post painted a different picture and added to the conversation. Videos of Kaepernick jerseys being burned was soon followed by reports that Kaepernick’s jersey is now the best selling jersey in the NFL.

The ironic timing of the 2016 NFL season launching on the 15th anniversary of 9.11 has ignited a tectonic shift in the conversation. The ideals of the 1st amendment and the rights to freedom of speech vs. the wounds from our most significant act of terrorism on home soil since Pearl Harbor, serve to fuel the narrative Kaepernick initiated.

It was truly amazing to see the NFL pre-game shows devote 20 minutes to discuss and debate the issues Kaepernick has raised. Additional fuel was added to the narrative, pending how the commentators aligned with your personal beliefs. It is also interesting to see other athletes (superstars or not) from across the NFL and other professional sports leagues stepping up to support the Kaepernick initiated narrative. The biggest hurdle for a new narrative to gain momentum is the impact of the first and second responders. Those early responders who choose to join the narrative serve to manifest the courage in others to also join.

You can see the underlying intent is now bubbling to the surface. The confluence of Black Lives matter and the right to be an American, with all of the rights that come with that honor is now a conversation that needs to be revisited as we sort through where our country is heading.

The rise of commentary on other sports figures who have taken stances against issues over the course of history is now being brought back to the equation. The passing of Muhammad Ali this year adds further fuel to the conversation about conviction, authenticity and personal belief systems. Each are significant attributes for turning a narrative into a movement. The raised fists from the 1968 Olympics were re-imagined during several games yesterday by athletes on the sidelines who were providing a visual voice to the underlying principles of the Kaepernick initiated narrative.

The Monday morning quarterbacking that fills the watercooler conversations in every office across America, is now a different conversation. The narrative of social injustice, our rights as a united America, what we stand for and who we are about to elect to run our country has now collided into a movement, initiated by a football player who felt it was time to be heard. If this is the next act of the Civil Rights movement for the current generation as some sources have suggested, it is too early to tell.

The seeds of unrest and desire to seek change are upon us. Where Occupy fizzled out, I believe the Kaepernick initiated movement is here to stay and its impact on America and abroad will be interesting to watch as the football and president election seasons march forward.