Standing up for a cause or establishing a presence for those lacking a voice is not for everyone.
But Colin Kaepernick is that someone.
Through his selfless acts, Kaepernick has become a living martyr with a consistent bullseye on his back, a burden which not all people are built for. Like leaders before him, Kaepernick exudes the patience, strength and passion necessary to become a figure of strength and consciousness in the face of the backlash, hate and repercussions he faces. Leaders with names like Martin, Malcolm, Huey and Ali radiated the addictive charisma that coerced attention, forced acknowledgement, demanded respect and forced change.
In sports, we saw it with names like Robinson, Ali, Carlos, Smith and Flood. Black male athletes who put the welfare of others in front of their career goals and monetary aspirations. They were men who were confident and comfortable enough to sacrifice immediate benefit for the future well being of all. They were irreplaceable figures who have a lasting effect on sports, people of color and the world.
Muhammad Ali 1 Year Tribute
But as sports became big business, the conscious athlete took a back seat to the money-conscious athlete and green took precedent over everything else, including self awareness, common sense and community. Phrases like “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” and “each one teach one” seemed to fade to black after the conscious Hip-Hop days of the 90s, when Native Tongues, PE, NWA and Paris lyrically educated us about history, modern day social injustice and being Black. The contracts got bigger, sponsorships grew and Black millionaires were birthed through performances on fields and courts across America.
Yet with the money arrived other issues, one of which was the ridiculous idea that athletes of color needed to shut up and be grateful for making all that money to play a game. They shouldn’t have opinions. They should refrain from discussing anything other than sports and basically be indifferent when it came to issues affecting the very communities many were raised in. Those who attempted to divert and voice their opinions and demonstrate their intellect suffered the wrath of big business and fans who desired the docile and mute athlete. Eventually, things had to change as the pressure cooker of social injustice began to boil over, eventually erupting with the continued epidemic of Black and Brown boys and men being shot and killed unnecessarily.
The movement seemed to start with a hoodie and a t-shirt, eventually evolving into press releases, group statements, videos, hashtags, marches and political appearances. Then things got real on August 26th, 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was caught sitting down during the national anthem, later stating that it was in protest of the oppression of people of color and ongoing issues with police brutality.
Most of White America lost their minds at this point, quickly forgetting that people have the right to express themselves and, more importantly, to be free. Two days later, Kaepernick addressed the situation by speaking with the media:
I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand. This stand wasnt for me. This is because Im seeing things happen to people that dont have a voice, people that dont have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So Im in the position where I can do that and Im going to do that for people that cant. It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.
I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. Thats not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isnt holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. Thats something thats not happening. Ive seen videos, Ive seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. Thats not right.
The situation erupted each week during the 2016 season, with voices of opposition and support following Kaep across the country. His simple gesture to bring awareness to a just cause is well documented, referenced in everything from the reason why NFL ratings were down to Donald Trump’s campaign speeches.
He was vilified in Buffalo and supported by veterans and other athletes, and when the season ended Kaepernick’s efforts continued despite later stating that he would refrain from kneeling during the anthem during the season. He was ridiculed by some but his money remained where his mouth was, helping to bring food and water to Somalia, giving clothes to men newly released from prison and giving back to inner city schools and kids through his Colin Kaepernick Foundation.
Colin Kaepernick is making his next donation. He wants voters to decide where he donates to. (: @Kaepernick7) https://t.co/iu61zRcPK2
So while Kaepernick the man continued his social efforts, Kaepernick the quarterback couldn’t get back on the field despite his talents and the fact that he was four years removed, and one play away, from a Super Bowl victory for the 49ers. Instead we witnessed blatant blackballing by the rich and mighty, yet PR fearing, team owners across the league. Names like Mike Glennon, Cody Kessler, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown and Blaine Gabbert were signing with teams looking for backup QBs while Kaepernick sat on the sidelines, nonchalantly helping those who needed it without complaining about the lack of a position in the NFL. Ignorance said he deserved his gridiron unemployment while intelligence understood what he was doing and elevated him into the ranks of the men mentioned above.
We continued to watch as it progressed, even experiencing vindication for the claims of blackballing through the words of NY Giants’ owner John Mara, who admitted that NFL owners are afraid of the (racist) backlash they would receive by signing Kaepernick. Jerry Jones was ok with signing Greg Hardy after his domestic violence charge, but owners are scared of a talented QB who happens to have decency and a conscience.
The fact that the Seahawks, who brought Kaepernick in for a workout and who seemed destined to sign him, went with Austin Davis instead, a player that didn’t even play in the 2016 season, was the icing on the cake. The Seahawks were obviously impressed with Davis’ three year career in which he played a total of 13 games, throwing for 2,548 yards, 13 TDs and 12 interceptions.
Kaepernick’s professional career appears to have gone the route paved by ignorance for Mahmoud Abdul Rauf and Craig Hodges, but what many fail to realize is that Kaepernick has achieved something which many don’t have the ability, or desire, to achieve. In some ways his accomplishment is even harder to achieve than securing a spot on an NFL roster.
He has become a modern day symbol of consciousness, a man that has recognized the importance of understanding one’s self and recognizing the need to reach back to pull up. Kaep has invoked the images of the past, when being Black and intelligent was something striven for, when green was secondary to community, sense of purpose was evident and uplifting those looking for inspiration was common instead of rarity.
As with all martyrs, they require an entity which tries to destroy their character and purpose. And if the NFL is seen as playing that role in Kaepernick’s life, then they have presently accomplished their goal of both squashing his career while simultaneously elevating his status to champion of the people.
So far, that seems to be working for Kaep. And while I’m sure he would love to be playing on Sundays, and is more than capable of doing so, he’s captured an even more worthy title by doing what all of us should be doing for those who need it most.