Kaepernick, Serena, And The Legacy Of Arthur Ashe

While watching Serena Williams play her sister Venus at the U.S. Open this past weekend, there was a moment that struck me. And it had nothing to do with what was happening on the tennis court or the continuing evolution of the Williams sisters being the greatest American sports story ever.

When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was shown to be in attendance along with his ex-teammate Eric Reid, thunderous applause floated out of the stadium as they were given a standing ovation. It was a chorus of hand-clapping that is mostly reserved for when Serena hoists a Grand Slam championship trophy.

But this was for another champion and a separate championship, one that celebrated, acknowledged and exalted the best strivings of humanity. 

Colin Kaepernick on Twitter

Took my niece to see @serenawilliams and @venuswilliams play tonight with @E_Reid35 at Arthur Ashe stadium. Lani lost it when Serena surprised her after the match!!! Thank you so much Serena!!!

The applause came a day after the NFLs request to throw out Kaepernicks claims that owners conspired to keep him out of the league was denied. 

Despite the best and most ignorant efforts of folks and entities like Papa John’s, NFL owners and Donald Trump, among others, the attempts at silencing, ostracizing and colluding to keep Kaepernick unemployed will one day be seen for what they truly are:  merely modern-day stains of America’s insidious, continuing and self-defeating disease of racism.

In fact, it’s the very racism that was behind Kaepernick’s motivations to take a knee in silent protest two years ago in the first place, the very mechanisms behind societal inequities, police brutality, and state-sanctioned terrorism, both economic and other, against people of color.  

Kaepernick, following his conscience, has morphed into the face of a new movement of athletesusing their platforms to bring awareness and change, a burgeoning force that not only brings recognition and cognizance but also a financial strength to the equation.

Ever since he began protesting police brutality and the oppression of people of color in America, he touched a raw nerve that will continue to be exposed and prodded in the days ahead. 

I think every athlete, every human, and definitely every African American should be completely grateful and honored how Colin and Eric are doing so much more for the greater good, so to say, Serena said after her match last Friday night. They really use their platform in ways that is really unfathomable. I feel like they obviously have great respect from a lot of their peers, especially other athletes, people that really are looking for social change.

Kaepernicks and Reids attorney, Mark Geragos, said via Twitter, the poor souls who dont realize [Kaepernick and Reid] are American Icons are about to be given a rude forearm shiver.

And what made it even more special and appropriate was the venue in which that moment took place, Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

Today’s best Black athletes ain’t having none of that “stick to sports” and “just shut up and dribble” nonsense. They’ve been spiritually mentored by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, and others, and understand the crucial juncture in which we now stand and the unique power of their voices and resources.

Now, with the announcement that Kaepernick will be the face of the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, they have the world’s top sports-apparel maker behind them as well.

Serena Williams on Twitter

Especially proud to be a part of the Nike family today. #justdoit

Tonight, while Serena plays in the U.S. Open semifinals, Nike will air the first commercial of that celebration, with Kaepernick as its voice and face, during the NFL’s opening night game featuring the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons. Now that’s some serious poetic justice.

Sports has long proven to have the power to change the world, from Jesse Owens and Joe Louis’ crippling of the ludicrous concept of Aryan superiority to Arthur Ashe’s call to condemn and destroy apartheid.

Something big is happening right now. Sports is once again transforming society, making people uncomfortable. 

True, life-altering change never happens within the confines of comfortability. And judging by Trump and the NFL’s escalating disagreeable nature and their unbearable intolerance toward truth, liberty, and justice for all, we’re on the verge of finally cracking through the walls in this fight for legitimacy, acceptance and the social condemnation of centuries worth of evil oppression toward something more substantive. 

Colin Kaepernick on Twitter

Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt https://t.co/x5TnU7Z51i

And that’s claiming our place and humanity, not simply demanding an empty accounting but rather a full examination and reconciliation.

It’s no mere coincidence that one of the most prominent venues this weekend, alongside the NFL stadiums that will be hosting its opening season games, is the one named after Arthur Ashe, where Kaepernick received such thunderous applause while watching Venus and Serena.

In a recent New York Times book review of Raymond Arsenault’s “Arthur Ashe: A Life”, my friend Tour wrote, “Ashe belongs on the Mount Rushmore of elite athletes who changed America put him alongside Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, and Billie Jean King.”

“Its inspiring to read about Ashe growing up to become a political figure on his own terms, every bit as political as Ali, even as he employed the measured tones of a diplomat rather than the bombastic tones of a revolutionary,” Tour wrote. “In many ways, Ashe, more than Ali, is the spiritual father of Colin Kaepernick, the seminal athlete-activist of today. Kaepernicks protest both his kneeling and his public persona over these last two years has been calm and dignified in a way Ashe would have respected. Ashe is the kind of man we can hope our children grow up to be like worldly, smart, cool, thoughtful, politically engaged…”

LeBron James on Twitter

We’ve got another 1 coming!! @springhillent @hbo we’re going to continue to push the conversation on sports for all levels https://t.co/An1QfjhBEV

If the NFL thought they could silence and dismiss Kaepernick, history will prove them to be quite wrong. His message will continue to gain steam, and with heavy hitters like Serena and LeBron James, the world’s two best athletes and most impactful advocates by his side, expect the volume to be turned up.

Arthur Ashe proved that he was much more than a Black man that could play tennis. His conscience and activism impacted the world. And ultimately, despite the venomous poison of racism, history will ultimately absolve Kaepernick in the way that it did Ashe, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and so many others who stood on the side of what was certifiably and undeniably right.

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