Colin Kaepernick Backlash Continues

Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on August 31, 2016.

In the first episode of the absolutely smashing eight-hour documentary, O.J.: Made In America, there is an extended sequence in which a young O.J. Simpson is contrasted with the more politically outspoken black athletes (Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, et. al) of the late sixties. O.J. Simpson whose meteoric rise and subsequent success partially hinged on his willingness to assauge white racial fears and guilt, criticized those athletes, speculating that their controversial actions “hurt those guys” career-wise. In episode five of the series, the episode which detailed Simpson’s decadent descent into infamy, Simpson admitted that he had previously been more concerned with maintaining his position within society’s pre-existing power structure than with his sense of racial identity or the plight of other less privileged African-Americans.

Will an equally devastating fall from grace prompt similar soul searching from former San Francisco 49er, Jerry Rice? I raise that question because Mr. Rice took to Twitter to criticize Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem, stating that “All Lives Matter” and advising Kaepernick not to “disrespect the flag.”

Really?

The fact that Mr. Rice said “All Lives Matter” tells me that he hasn’t paid any attention to the 2016 presidential race. If he had, he would have been aware of the fact that Bernie Sanders was eviscerated for making similar statements not even a year ago. It also tells me that Mr. Rice has not paid attention to the eighty-six kazillion cogent critiques of the statement “all lives matter.” (For anyone who hasn’t paid attention: the statement “all lives matter” is insensitive and just plain wrong because it falsely assumes (1) that Black Lives Matter is elevating the lives of black people above all others and that (2) the generalized systemic inequalities that African-Americans face do not lead up to a pervasive devaluation of the lives of African-Americans.)

If anyone should be concerned about the ubiquitous mistreatment of African-American men at the hands of police, it should be Jerry Rice, a dark-skinned black man who is big enough to play pro-football. After all, those are the very black men who have been stereotyped as dangerous criminals since this country’s inception. The fact that Jerry Rice took a slap at the Black Lives Matter movement tells me that he is operating at a certain remove from the black community as a whole. O.J. Simpson attempted to distance himself from the overall black community. We all know how that worked out.

And, like Simpson, history will not absolve Jerry Rice for his deracinated middle of the road stance. While many of Simpson’s more “militant” contemporaries — Ali, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith and John Carlos — are widely regarded as heroes, O.J. Simpson is, well, O.J. Simpson.