By Ibrahim Vicks
Many people were outraged when professional athlete and 3-Time Olympic gold medalist, Gabby Douglas, decided not to place her right hand over her heart during the national anthem at the Olympic games. She was berated by scores of people for “being disrespectful” and “having an attitude”. The backlash she faced was a case of mass cyber bullying. Social media users began singing the same double-standard tune that black people face when parallels are drawn between Douglas and U.S. Olympic Swimmer,
Ryan Lochte. the swimmer from the USA’s Olympic swim team who got into an incident involving the local law enforcement.
Now, the country turns to Colin Kaepernick, who is the quarterback for the San Fransisco 49ers. Last Friday, Kaepernick remained seated during the national anthem at a season pregame against the Green Bay Packers. When asked about his actions, the 49ers quarterback had this to say.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… 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.”
The 49ers as a franchise have supported the quarterback’s decision to exercise his 1st Amendment right to protest, but have not directly supported his actions. This says they’re obviously trying to avoid any damage to the team’s brand, which anyone would say is a good call for the franchise to make. However, this hasn’t stopped fans from harshly criticizing Kaepernick.
Comments from ESPN fans read:
“It’s about respect for a country that provides him with the opportunity to play a game he loves for a lot of money. If he doesn’t appreciate what he has he should use his money to help the oppressed people that he sits for. That would make a bigger statement of his position instead of be disrespectful to the country that provides him with opportunities to disagree.”
“Not standing for the nation anthem is just as much of a disgrace as racism. People of all colors and nationalities fought for our freedom. I was one of them. We can agree racism is wrong, but we should fight racism together, not in protest like this. If it means something to you, put your money (or time) where your mouth (actions) are.”
“Yeah Colin, you and your fellow minority athletes which make up the majority of athletes in the NFL and NBA are truly oppressed. You make more money in a year than some people in a lifetime but you are oppressed ….you are a piss poor example of what the NFL should represent…teamwork, unity…..and to disrespect the country that gives you so much is complete BS.”
While not receiving the same amount and type of criticism that Douglas has since her time in Rio, which speaks to the harsh lens under which black women live their lives in comparison to any other demographic, and is an entire conversation in and of itself, this shows that many of the folks tuning into sports are missing the point of Kaepernick’s deliberate action.
He is not protesting the military. He is not being un-American. He is bringing awareness through his position in the spotlight to the mistreatment of Blacks and people of color. Now our own Jeremiah Trotter, who is the linebacker for the Eagles, will join Kaepernick in protest, as reported by ESPN News, though apparently he has told FOX 29’s Chris O’Connell that he will be standing for the national anthem during the game against the Jets. We will see, and I do hope that he remains true to his original statement. Kaepernick has received support from many folks across many social media platforms, veterans included, and having another player sitting with him will make this that much more powerful.
This controversy brings up the ever present racist trope of the “ungrateful n*gger”. This is the opinion of white racists, who believe that all professional black athletes owes a great debt to society for the opportunity of being paid to play sports. Any time black athletes use that privilege to make or take political statements or positions they are abusing and misusing that privilege.
This idea ignores the years of time, training, effort, money, sacrifices, and health risks that athletes have to endure to get to where they are. They are successful through their own merit and not because someone is doing them a favor. In a nutshell, they ask “How dare you act as if you’re so oppressed with your $14M contracts? How dare you protest our national anthem when soldiers risk their lives to protect our freedoms? You should be ashamed!”
In the past, there have been a number of examples of athletes using their celebrity to bring awareness to issues facing the country. Muhammed Ali, who died earlier this year, refused to go to war in Vietnam because it didn’t align with his personal values. He didn’t see the point in going to another country to kill people who had done him no harm for the country that oppressed his people for hundreds of years. The boxer, regarded as the greatest of all time, was hated by the masses for his actions, but he was on the right side of history. More recently, we’ve had Cam Newton, Douglas, and now Kaepernick.
Athletes should not be reduced to bodies that move balls up and down a field or across a court. They are entitled to every expression of their constitutional rights that everyone else is, and if Colin Kaepernick or any other player wishes to use their access to media to stand up, or in this case sit down, against injustice then that’s well within their ability to do as U.S. citizens. Rather than get upset at his action, we should dissect the content of his cause.
Kaepernick said he doesn’t care if they take away his sponsorships or even football all together. Upholding his beliefs and dignity were more important. At this point, the most we can say for sure is that his message has surely been received. Let’s hope that positive change will come of it.