“Stick to sports.”
“Shut up and dribble.”
“Don’t bring sports into politics.”
We’ve all heard these phrases, and most of us agree they are flat-out wrong. But there is only one person who has truly suffered for ignoring the complainers. His name is Colin Kaepernick.
At the start of the third NFL preseason game in 2016, the then San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem. This was the beginning of something bigger than football and the league.
Everyone noticed Kaepernick sitting, including Nate Boyer, a white Army veteran and former member of the Seattle Seahawks. Boyer wrote to Kaepernick and eventually stood next to the QB and 49ers defensive back Eric Reid as the pair knelt during the national anthem before the fourth and final preseason game in 2016.
Fast-forward to 2020 and protests rocked the nation after three African Americans — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd — were brutally and tragically murdered. Arbery was killed February 23, 2020 by two white men while jogging, and no one was arrested until a video surfaced months later. Taylor was killed by cops after a no-knock warrant went wrong. And Floyd, well — you know about the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of police brutality.
They all died as a result of the very cause Kaepernick, Reid, and other NFL players knelt to protest in the first place.
Kaepernick, like every American, knew the police brutality towards African American men and women in this country was disgusting and wrong.
But the President of the United States didn’t. Here is his ignorant response.
Trump wishes NFL owners would tell anthem protesters “get that son of a bitch off the field right now” pic.twitter.com/gq4EH3lNoY
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) September 23, 2017
That’s right — Trump condemned players for peacefully protesting, rather than cops for killing. He spun the narrative on a much larger issue. Boyer tried to mediate, but the response from the person with the most powerful seat in the country was ugly. And his VP followed suit by leaving an Indianapolis Colts game where players knelt in protest. This increased the hate directed towards Kaepernick and multiple other NFL players.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
The NFL stayed mute for a while and there was a gray line between the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association. Until, of course, the NFL did what the NFL always does. In 2018, owners attempted to silence players. They threatened fines against all players who knelt rather than stay in the locker room to protest.
Stay in the locker room? Fine. Kneel on national television and hurt our ratings and future multi-billion dollar deals? Not even close to being allowed. It was a roller coaster of a battle between the team owners and the NFLPA. They agreed on a policy, then put it on hold, and then never really returned to it. Players and coaches eventually took the issue into their own hands, either kneeling together as a team before the anthem or staying in the locker room.
It wasn’t just police brutality that Kaepernick and NFL players knelt for. It was the systemic oppression and racism that helps light the fire. Going to the “wrong house,” arresting people because they “fit the description” or just killing someone because they are black.
Thinking of all the senseless deaths at the hands of cops or other Americans brought me back to the death of 14-year old Emmett Till in 1955. Till was brutally murdered after he was accused of flirting and grabbing the waist of 21-year old Carolyn Bryant.
Bryant’s husband Roy and half-brother J.W Milam abducted Till, disfigured him, then killed him. They were tried in court by an all-white jury and acquitted. They admitted to the murder years later. Bryant later went on to acknowledge fabricating part of her interaction with Till.
That was 65 years ago. African Americans are still being killed for being black. Over things that could be solved so simply. Passing a counterfeit bill doesn’t merit a death sentence. Nor does fitting a description or running in a neighborhood — the list goes on and on.
This is the fight that Kaepernick risked his entire career on. Not only was this fight so important to Kaepernick that he was blackballed by the NFL, but it was of similar importance to Reid, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Michael Thomas and many others who risked their careers. Stills, Wilson and Thomas are still in the NFL. Reid, however, was recently released from a three-year $22 Million dollar deal he signed in 2019. That came after a decent year from the safety. He remains unsigned.
Kaepernick knelt and caused an outcome he might not have expected, but which was needed. He ended his own career early. What did we hear from those who didn’t agree with him? He’s no good, he’s past his prime, he’s not worth the media firestorm. It even seemed the Dolphins might sign him, but then came his praise for Fidel Castro. However, Kaepernick remains unsigned.
After the protests over the deaths of Floyd, Taylor and Arbery, Kaepernick’s name has come back up in the news. NFL players and media have demanded apologies from the NFL for its stance against the players during the start of the kneeling.
— Saquon Barkley (@saquon) June 5, 2020
As a united front, the NFL players demanded an apology and statement from the NFL.
We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter. #InspireChange pic.twitter.com/ENWQP8A0sv
— NFL (@NFL) June 5, 2020
For the NFL this is a start. But Kaepernick deserves an apology from commissioner Roger Goodell and the league. He was pushed out, maligned by the president of the United States, and bashed in the media.
The NFL needs to help in educating those who are continuing to protest the issue of taking a knee. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his PR team are attempting to dislodge his very large foot from his mouth after an interview with Yahoo! Finance in which he criticized the one-knee protests last week.
Respectfully, to Brees and all those who are attempting to hijack the cause of the protests: educate yourselves and understand the privilege that you (and I) wake up with every day due to the color of your skin. Understand why those who aren’t the same color as you kneel and why they protest. And stop making it about the flag. It’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than this country. It’s about the oppression, racism and the disrespect that African American men and women deal with from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep, every single day.