There is the growing sentiment in America that History will look back favourably on NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
A man who is being ostracised for persistently taking a knee during the American national anthem, Colin Kaepernick could have so easily taken the easy route out. Instead, his actions have brought attention to the long term socio-political and historical issues his country continues to face and has made for an uncomfortable dilemma for many Americans.
Now doing one of the most naturally American activities, watching a game of football, makes for uncomfortable viewing. A gesture symbolic of his resistance against the systematic oppression of black people in America, Colin Kaepernick persistently kneeled during the American national anthem. What started as small rumblings has garnered him international attention and has sparked a boycott which could leave America’s most popular sport in crisis.
Who is Colin Kaepernick?
The 6ft 4 quarterback was born in in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Heidi Russo, a 19-year-old who was single at the time. His birth father, an African American man, left Russo before Colin was born. Russo placed Colin for adoption with Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, a white couple who had two children—son Kyle and daughter Devon—and were looking for a boy after losing two other sons to heart defects.
His upbringing makes his story even more engaging. Despite being brought up by a white family and having a white mother, he has stepped out of his position as a privileged millionaire footballer. By taking lead in the fight for the average black American, many who have been devastated by the incidences of police brutality which have disproportionately affected the black community over the last few years, social media has played its role in disseminating Colin’s cause alongside groups such as Black Lives Matter.
Kaepernick is currently a free agent. Considered as too much trouble to be drafted because of his stance, his former teams the San Francisco 49ers decided not to renew his contract and the other football teams have opted for players who may or may not be better but will cause less trouble and are less likely to upset their majority white fan base.
One can’t deny that Kaepernick has been inflammatory. Donning an incredible afro, a symbol of unequivocal black pride, speaking candidly in interviews against the system and wearing risqué t shirts with a political message including his support for Fidel Castro, Colin is a man who stands firm in his beliefs – many who believe them to be Un-American.
His defiance has been greeted with death threats, vile online abuse and patriots burning shirts with his name on it. There is no way to do this half-heartedly – if you are going to change systematic oppression, you have to dismantle structures and cause havoc. Kaepernick understands this, stating that the movement is bigger than football.
The Big Picture
Ultimately, Sports and Entertainment are a business and when there is a conflict with political movements, it makes for uncomfortable viewing. However, these huge moments will be looked back on favourably in years to come.
Jessie Owens black power fist at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany comes to mind or the great Muhammad Ali speaking out against the war in Vietnam and having his boxing licence revoked. The common theme here is the sacrifice for what these athletes believed was the greater good for society and it is their right to do so, that’s what America is supposed to be about.
The US which proudly proclaims its values of individual freedom cannot then stop Colin Kaepernick from exercising his democratic right to peaceful protest however unfortunately, the capitalist system can punish him for putting morality above comfortability and that is precisely the reason he finds himself without a team.
His upbringing makes his story even more engaging. Despite being brought up by a white family and having a white mother, he has stepped out of his position as a privileged millionaire footballer to fight for the rights of poor black americans.
Last weekend, something powerful happened. Despite months of division between commentators, coaches and players about the situation, players and coaches from a number of teams linked arms and took a knee during the national anthem after President Donald Trump weighed in on player protests, urging team owners to fire players who protested and asking fans to boycott NFL games.
It’s fascinating how despite months of division, NFL players and coaches were on this occasion in unison against the President, a man who is supposed to unite the country.
However, following events in Charlotesville during the summer, it is clear that Donald Trump does not care about unity. With many of his supporters following his orders to boycott and many fans wanting to avoid the uncomfortable viewing surrounding the situation. NFL viewership’s are plummeting, last Sunday night’s game declined about 10 percent from Week 3 last year.
Other athletes are speaking out about Trump’s involvement in Sports. NBA superstar Lebron James recently launched a verbal onslaught of the President, calling him a ‘bum’ and it’s pertinent that racial tension is something that has been a part of his sport (basketball) and more generally American sporting history.
Not only was there a scandal following racial remarks by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling who stated he did not want black people in his stadium, in 2012 there was an NBA lockdown between players and owners, resulting in a delay in the season - start. Many critics likened the dynamics of the league to the times of slavery because of the division between the almost all white male billion dollar owner profiles of NBA teams and the athletic black athletes who were being ‘owned’ and exploited by these men for profit with no regard for their livelihoods.
A morbid description, however, what we can’t hide from is the intricate connection between Sports and Politics. With rumours of rapper Jay Z turning down the opportunity to perform at the Superbowl 2018 in support for Colin Kaepernick, it seems like the NFL are struggling to find ways to make people just focus on the game.
It’s understandable why many patriots and veterans feel angry or disrespected by this gesture, however, it is also understandable why many NFL players, particularly the black ones want to kneel in solidarity with Kaepernick.
Football gave them their opportunity to rise above the ranks and in a lot of cases, escape poverty but they cannot feel too far removed from the plight of the average African American who could be subject to police brutality because of systematic racism in America. Ultimately, the future is uncertain but what is sure is that future history books will tell the tale of Colin Kaepernick and what he stood for.
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