|Colin Kaeprenick, joined by teammate Eric Reid (Marcio Jose Sanchez/ AP)|
I highly doubt Colin Kaepernick envisioned sparking any sort of social movement when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL draft. Indeed, he recently stated that he didn’t have a desire to kneel indefinitely. And why would he? Certainly it’s exhausting to be such a polarizing lightning rod, especially for someone who has spent his life entertaining millions. But black entertainers (sports or otherwise) have always had a unique relationship with the people they entertain in this country. We could perform on TV and in night clubs long before we were seen as equal in the eyes of the law, or given the same rights to elect public officials.
It’s painful now to watch Amos and Andy or read about Jesse Owens representing his country, with the knowledge that they were coming back to the reality of their home’s inequality. To know that black people were good enough to bring joy into the lives of millions, but in those same homes weren’t viewed as an equal. Being a black entertainer has meant being a jester for so long that a protest by Kaepernick (or his compatriots) is met with anger and bewilderment. So when Dabo Swinney proclaims that those that are protesting should, “move to another country” it is (in part) because those voicing dissent aren’t viewed seriously. Jesters don’t dictate policy.
Swinney, or Jim Harbaugh (who had his own comments regarding the viability of Kaepernick’s protest) were outspoken in their opposition to Kaepernick’s actions, but silent to the police brutality and its effects on the African American community. These two men have made a career out of young African Americans performing for their benefit. Every year they go into homes of young black men and claim that they can offer the best experience for them. But with the disregard for black life for the sake of decorum, how could they be?
|The moment has turned into a movement (Bill Streicher USA Today Sports)|
Ultimately, this protest is about refusal from a marginalized group to only be a trinket of society; something pretty to entertain without any profound substance to add. Through that prism, the death threats that Kaepernick has received as a result of kneeling begin to make more sense. With the understanding that some believe blacks are only good for entertaining, it is only natural that the protestor and the protest are under more scrutiny than the continued deaths of black people at the hands of state actors. Banishment is of course on the table for the problematic ornament—if we aren’t entertaining, what else can we possibly contribute?
The growing movement started by Kaepernick underscores the sentiment that blacks will not silently entertain the masses while real issues and problems that directly affect them go unresolved. Kaepernick’s methodology of protest has been questioned by everyone from Tony La Russa to Trent Dilfer, and while there is plenty of room between the two on the level of vitriol Kaepernick should receive, the overall message is the same “not here, not now”.
If the refrain sounds familiar, it’s because it should. To quote Swinney’s favorite freedom fighter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’” For some there will never be a proper time to fight this injustice. But time is a luxury that couldn’t be afforded to Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, or Keith Lamont Scott.
|Professional or amateur, this message resonates in the black community. As HU cheerleaders demonstrated|
Real change is needed to combat the way in which the black community is policed. Brutality can take many forms, as is evident by the Dept. of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department. Combine that report of a major American city, and the repetitive nature of the violence, and it’s obvious that there is a systematic issue that should be addressed by important changes; among them, the need for special prosecutors to prosecute police-involved shootings cases instead of district attorneys that have and must maintain a relationship with the police department.
No one wants to see more civilians unnecessarily killed by police officers, but until they are held accountable for their poor decisions that lead to fatalities, the value of black lives will remain less than. But they are still public servants that serve the community. So when a police union threatens to stop working games affecting the safety of those at the San Francisco stadium, it should outrage everyone.
Kaepernick’s protest has already done more than I could have imagined. It’s started an actual conversation because it involves one of the nation’s prized commodities—football. And because so many different people from so many different walks of life enjoy football on Sundays, it may actually lead to changed minds and changed policies. In its simplicity, Kaepernick struck at the core of America. To take a knee in football is to, quite literally, let a down pass with no resistance for the betterment of the team. In kneeling before a flag of unfulfilled promise, Kaepernick’s resistance is anything but passive; and may put this country in a much better position once the whistle blows to start the next play.