Colin Kaepernick Might Be A Catalyst
Last week, San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made news when he took a stand, or more accurately a seat during the national anthem. When asked about his reasoning, the twenty eight year old signal caller did not call an audible to a less direct way of phrasing his discontent with America’s mode of operation towards Black and other People of Color. Kaepernick directly pointed at the track record of police officers killing innocent citizens, or as he phrased it “murdering people and getting paid leave.” When pressed on his stance this past Sunday, Kaepernick did not back off, shy away from, or alter his stance that these things are not right and run contrary to the alleged American values of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, repeatedly saying “that’s not right” as he criticized the aforementioned policing crisis in America, the current Presidential race and other topics for approximately seventeen minutes as reporters pressed him.
Kaepernick is not the only current football player to take an explicit stance and point at the conditions of society as it relates to Black people being oppressed and maligned however, as reporters asked the always candid Miami Dolphins Running Back Arian Foster his thoughts on Kaepernick’s stance. Foster spoke at length about the disconnectedness of African Americans from our history and from our family trees, citing his own ignorance about where he really comes from in Africa, pushing back with his pointed and poignant commentary against some voices which called for Kaepernick to leave the country for voicing his displeasure at it. Kaepernick has also received votes of confidence from Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jim Brown, athletes who stood with Muhammad Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War and in the case of the former, going so far as to pen a op-ed defending Kapernick and the misguided notion of Patriotism as unquestioning blindness to the reality of everyday life in America for Black and Brown people. Jabbar and Brown’s voices still carry weight in the realm of sports and activism, as they are essentially living links to the time and the activism of Muhammad Ali, who similarly faced criticism from “Patriotic Americans” for voicing the reasons for his own protest against the War in Vietnam. Ali’s protest famously spawned the quotes “ I ain’t got no quarrel with no Vietcong, ain’t no Vietcong ever called me Nigger” and the diatribe against White America, “If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home.”
In the same vein, Colin Kaepernick’s more subtle subversion exposes the same flaws and the same sins of White America, in that they actually expect Black people and Black athletes to see rampant and obvious injustices in both their lives and the lives of others and simply resign to just play football, or basketball, or box, and count their money in lieu of being concerned with social justice. In the instance of Colin Kaepernick, he faced the barrel-side of a gun of a police officer, NFL contract, NFL millions and all, and essentially was non-verbally called a nigger by that particular PD. In fact, in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s statements, the owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Jed York, was sent a letter by the San Francisco FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) calling his words an embarrassment, and other useless words that betray the fragility of the Police Unions in this country when confronted with the utter failure to protect Black and Brown lives from the bullets of sworn officers. The real embarrassment here is the refusal to listen to the calls from Black Lives Matter and other groups which are working to highlight the mistreatment and abuse of Black and Brown people at the hands of officers who are supposed to uphold law and order.
Kaepernick is not without his share of detractors, however, most notably former 49ers Wide Receiver Jerry Rice and former San Diego Chargers safety Rodney Harrison, The former issued a few tweets that included an all lives matter proclamation which is sadly indicative of both his generation and his personal beliefs about the calls for police accountability, despite growing up in rural Mississippi and attending an HBCU, which you would think would have given him a better perspective on the history as to exactly why Kaepernick is both justified and correct in his stance and his words regarding police brutality in America. Rice’s comments, similar to those of Michael Jordan, are indicators of players whose stature was largely owed to the fact that they refused to take political stances, or that the stances that they took were closely aligned with assuaging Whiteness and the sensibilities of “America.” Even the NFL’s Head Office is rather surprisingly in Colin Kaepernick’s corner, doing everything except yelling “We want our players to protest the injustice in America.” But Rodney Harrison. He attempted the “Jesse Williams argument” which is to say that he explicitly questioned Kaepernick’s Blackness, going as far as to say that he isn’t Black “period” and then later backtracking when he found out that Kaepernick has a Black father, which makes him biracial in actuality, but as seen in prior treatment by the police, Black culturally.
Joining Rodney Harrison and Jerry Rice on the “sit your ass down team” is ex-49er coach Jim Harbaugh who is now the Head Coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Harbaugh said that he couldn’t respect the stance or the motivation of Colin Kaepernick, which is odd coming from a man who has zero problems using Black culture to sell Black recruits on coming to possibly one of the least diverse schools in the country. I mean, he’s perfectly fine with rap music, or wearing the jerseys of popular Black players, but being Black and having an informed opinion on the workings (or in this case failures) of the police and by extension America is something that he can’t respect. What kind of a coach who hopes to recruit Black players to play football on the campus of a University that famously protested Affirmative Action says complete and utter nonsense like that? Harbaugh, much like Rodney Harrison attempted to backtrack and correct or clarify his statement, most likely because it would have cost him all kinds of scholarship players and incoming Freshmen, but we are all familiar with the concept of a Freudian slip. Harbaugh meant exactly what he said. Harbaugh is also not the only one who cannot respect Kaepernick’s stance and motivation, as any internet comment section will reveal. This is what happens when you are indoctrinated to believe that America is THE exceptional nation of nations, and that America is supposed to be some kind of moral authority for the world, when in actuality, the UN is looking at America and wondering why it feels compelled to try and solve everyone else’s problems while racism, White Supremacy and public servants brutalizing and killing the population is a thing that still has not been dealt with on a large scale as of yet.
Whiteness and the Eurocentric education system will tell you that you are supposed to salute the flag, that you are supposed to respect a country that for most of its existence has maintained a kind of dual citizenship program wherein there has been complete freedom for one particular group, but everyone else has their freedom on a taut string, waiting to have it yanked from underneath their feet. How do you demand unquestioning fidelity to a country that has systematically maintained inequity for the better part of sixty years and has profited every step of the way on the backs of Black and Brown Americans? How do you demand that athletes, who do not stop being Black or Brown just because they can run fast and jump high maintain radio silence when they are faced with the reality of racial injustice in America? How do you justify aligning yourself with the oppressor in order to make sure you’re not seen as a “distraction” or a “troublemaker” for stating the blatantly obvious? Martin Luther King Jr. once said there comes a time when silence is betrayal, and I think there are one too many athletes who have chosen to betray us in the interest of personal fortunes and brands. It is high time they spoke up and out about the Hell the rest of us are catching.