Professional athletes have been greatly commoditized to the benefit of your entertainment and to the detriment of their own personal development. For years they’ve been rendered silent; fearful that expressing their truest selves, and standing for something meaningful, would strip them of their livelihood. However, heightened sensitivities surrounding racial inequalities and injustices have jolted professional athletes awake to finally do or say something that will make a difference. This resurgence of athlete activism is a welcomed throwback to the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s and Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and others. As today’s sports stars, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings and Colin Kaepernick, to name a few, have demonstrated through their recent statements and actions, there is no turning back. Now is the time.
What originated as a poem by Francis Scott Key in 1814, later became the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner and what is also known as America’s national anthem. During this period, Black Americans were referred to as negroes, and viewed as second class citizens. During this period, America was literally being built upon the blood, sweat, and tears of an entire race of enslaved and oppressed people. “The land of the free” that we sing of? Nothing but a dream.
Sixty years ago, segregation was thriving in America. Sixty years ago, Black citizens were being hanged from trees and lynched because of the color of their skin. Sixty years ago, Black people were denied the right to vote.
Today, countless Black bodies are being murdered by police officers without consequence to those doing the killing. Today, we have a presidential candidate whose regular denigration of Black, Brown, and Muslim people has not prevented him the opportunity to become America’s 45th president.
This is the sordid past and present of the United States of America — the land of the free and the home of the brave — and yet you want to shame NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for acknowledging these gross realities? This is the country you want Kaepernick to pledge his allegiance to?
When we address the American flag, amid the longstanding suffering and institutionalized systems of oppression that have adversely impacted Black and Brown people in this country, whose freedoms and liberties are we honoring, exactly? The apparent contradictions, especially for Black men in America, are so startlingly stark that not even a $114 million NFL contract should be enough money to buy one’s silence and complacency. And finally, it’s not.
Kaepernick is conscious of these inequities. His personal experiences of being stereotyped as a criminal and gang member because of his tattoos, or being called Osama Bin Laden due to his brown skin and full beard, as well as a lifetime of partisan observations as a Black man in America, have forced him to determine, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” And that’s his right to do so. Conversely, if you choose to not stand with Kaepernick’s actions, it’s your right to disavow yourself from his choices. However, responding to his act of protest by calling him a n*gger, telling him to shut up and play ball, or to have a desire to ship him “back” to Africa, a continent in which he’s never resided, as if he’s property, is exposing your racial biases. If you allow ignorance to drown out truth, again, that’s your choice. But condemning Kaepernick for taking a stand for what he believes, even if that means sitting down during one of America’s most valued traditions, is as un-American as it gets — for you. You’re denying him of his First Amendment right. It’s also contributing to the exact dehumanization of Black people that Kaepernick is protesting. The gross inequities — economic, educational, environmental — and the constant devaluation of Black lives. The discarding of Black bodies as if their waste by those who are hired to protect and serve every community equally and without prejudice. Moreover, it’s justifying Kaepernick’s rationale for jeopardizing everything he’s earned at a time when he has the most to lose as uncertainties surrounding his NFL future are already abound.
In an effort to discover freedom for himself and others, Kaepernick’s further unearthed the ugly truths that continue to rot America from the inside out; a priceless tradeoff that only true bravery and the American way could breed.