“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” - James A. Baldwin
Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned for the 2017 NFL season. What does this tell us? Well, some would say it’s because of his performance last year and that he was solely to blame for the train-wreck that was the 49ers season. Others have used my new favorite excuse, taken right out of the “It’s not you, it’s me” handbook of mind-numbingly stupid excuses, and suggested that no NFL team wants him because he’s vegan. Right, because being vegan slowed down the greatest QB of all time. But he’s white and didn’t protest for black lives, so that diet worked for him, but not for Kaepernick right?
But when you look past these asinine reasons and consider how the NFL is willing to look the other way when a player kills someone, is accused of sexual assault or domestically abuses their spouse, you realize the unfortunate but brutal reality that, while time has passed and progress has been made, American society still can’t handle a prominent black person questioning whether this country lives up to its purported ideals of freedom, equality and justice for all.
And I know what some of you will say, “Oh, here we go with this White Privilege crap. The man disrespected the flag; the flag that represents this nation and the freedom of white men to sexually harass women and get rewarded with 11 million dollar bonuses and even the presidency.”
Seriously, only in America can a white man cost his company $13 million dollars in settlement fees, yet remain employed, while a black man peacefully protests in a corner, and is blackballed. But we should have seen this coming. Historically, black athletes in the US have always been punished for speaking out against injustice. When Muhammad Ali said he was a “conscientious objector” and refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War, he was arrested, his title was stripped, and his boxing license was revoked. When former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand during the National Anthem on religious grounds, he lost out on millions of dollars, endured death threats, and his home was burned to the ground. After Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised the Black Power salute on the podium in the 1968 Olympics, they were expelled from the Games.
Ironically, these athletes are now celebrated as trailblazers and held in the highest regard, at times even by the same people who today are vilifying Kaepernick. Why? Because their protest is in the past, when it was someone else’s problem, and no longer represents a threat to the status quo today. You know, back when protest was really needed, when times were tougher, when black people really were mistreated, not just disproportionately targeted and all too often killed by law enforcement.
I’m sure that 20 or 30 years from now the situation will be the same, and Kaepernick will be widely hailed as a national hero. But for now he must be punished. Just as Tommie Smith and John Carlos were punished. Just as Muhammad Ali was punished. I mean come on, open your eyes, people. The NFL doesn’t have a rule like the NBA’s H-2 that demands: “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.” So how do they punish a man many owners deem a ‘traitor’? With a stiff arm in free agency. But punishing Kaepernick has much larger implications, similar to those imposed by the Olympic Committee and the Boxing Federation back in the ‘60s. It is to send a message to others who dare ‘step out of line’. And that alone is a reminder of the ugliness that continues to pervade American society.
But what’s truly remarkable is that there’s no doubt Colin Kaepernick knew exactly what he was getting into, but protested anyway. He knew all too well the disdain directed at previous African-American athletes who spoke out against injustice. I mean, look at what he’s been doing all off-season. Does that look like the actions of a man desperate for the phone to ring? He’s not sitting around wondering why all the teams in need of a QB haven’t dialed him up because he is busy providing solutions to real issues. Meals on Wheels, Somalia, Chicago, Standing Rock, community efforts, donations, speaking, teaching. While his NFL stock has slowed down, his overall objective to help marginalized groups in America has not. Yet the NFL continues to turn its back on him because, as I have said before, to them the only crime worse than taking a life is protesting when a black life is taken.
So I will continue to talk about this. I will continue to express my disgust at the treatment of a man whose efforts have been monumental. And until I am proved otherwise, I will continue to expose the reality that many refuse to face - that it is still unacceptable for a black person in the United States of America to question a predominately white narrative.
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