Colin Kaepernick took a bold and criticized stance for change. But the fact that his message isn’t new raises the question of how much change has occurred.
There is a popular perception that the sports world is devoid of the same social intricacies that mar interactions on a daily basis. When men and women put on the pads, score goals and win championships, they aren’t impacted, interested or involved in the issues that affect the communities where their fans live and breathe.
Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers created a massive amount of controversy for his refusal to stand during the national anthem. The situation has caused a wide range of outrage and response. While difference of opinions continue to rage, it’s important to realize that his message and protest isn’t a new practice in a world where sports and societal challenges crash into each other frequently.
Attention was brought to this situation after Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem before the 49ers took to the field against the Green Bay Packers on Friday. He revealed the reason behind doing so was due to his views of how the country treats racial minorities.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said as reported by ESPN. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
From that point forward, the responses rolled in. Some current players, former military personnel, fans and former players rallied behind Kaepernick and his message. On the other side of the conversation; fans, fellow players, police officials and others criticized the player for his actions. While this part of the conversation will temper on for the rest of Kaepernick’s career; a compelling aspect of this story is that this is yet another example of how athletes continue to find themselves in “hot water” over their views of issues in the American society that run counter to the status quo.
WNBA players were initially fined after showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the call to end violence against police. That fine was eventually rescinded after a public outcry. NBA players LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul were criticized (although not widely) for their poignant stand during the ESPYs, calling for open dialogue about police brutality and the violence occurring in many communities. These are recent examples of the backlash that awaits athletes when they speak out in a way that is not appreciated by the majority of the public.
However, it must be recognized that this isn’t a new standard. Many remember the iconic photo of John Carlos and Tommie Smith from the 1968 Olympics. However, the repercussions for their actions were swift; as both men were suspended by the United States Olympic Committee and struggled to earn a living within their craft in the years to follow. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the national anthem in 1996 as a member of the Denver Nuggets.
Two years later the former Most Improved Player award recipient was out of the NBA and playing overseas. Lesser-known talents such as Ron Harper, all the way up to great figures such as Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali all received harsh criticism for doing and saying something different to what the majority of the American public believed to be true.
But think of this question: if these figures from the 60s and earlier were speaking of racially charged problems that still persist today, how much progress has truly been made?
The fact that athletes are once again taking the charge to speak for people who are often voiceless and facing disparagement for their actions, rather than focusing on the consequences that caused the outcry, speaks volumes to the issues and the public response. Are you mad at how Kaepernick decided to protest or are you upset at the consequences that caused the concern?
Jim Brown has praised Kaepernick for his stance:
“He’s within his rights and he’s telling the truth as he sees it,” Brown said as reported by Pat McManamon of ESPN. “I am with him 100 percent. If we came together with our great athletes and our great scholars and said, ‘As African-Americans, when we have a community that’s defined, we’re going to make it the cleanest, nicest, most well-educated, hard-working community in this country. The young men of today are stepping up,” Brown said. “For so many years they did not step up.”
One other interesting point is that while Smith, Carlos, Brown, Ali and others were vilified for their actions initially; the country seemed to “love” these men in the latter stages of life or in death; even though their message never changed. Often times, those same critics changed their tune. That causes the confusion as to if they really “loved” the athlete, even though they spent much of their time denigrating the ideals these people pushed for. It’s too early to say the same for Kaepernick, but at least his actions to protest are a start that can lead him down the same path.