Kaepernick has rightfully gained my respect during the last couple of days.
As you all may know, he’s been the eye of a storm that he himself created by sitting during the national anthem during one of his pre-season games as a form of protest against the injustices that have been running rampant around the nation.
And just now, I came across reports of two other NFL players who joined in on the protest – Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers and Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, I don’t watch the NFL and while I’m not completely clueless, I definitely am the guy that doesn’t watch a single snap all season and shows up at the Super Bowl party wearing a Cam Newton jersey because I saw him dab a few times in the endzone.
Just kidding, not a jersey. Probably just a t-shirt. From Ross. You know, the ones with the blank space above the number that cost no more than $6.99.
You get the point.
I do, however, know who Kaepernick is. I watched him lose in the Super Bowl a couple of years back and haven’t heard much of him on mainstream NFL news in recent years. And prior to reading reports of them joining in on the protest, I was oblivious to the existence of Reid and Lane.
And that right there is the reason why I think Kaepernick and Co.’s protest is so effective.
To my knowledge, and please correct me if I’m wrong, these guys aren’t exactly household names. A guy who gets all of his NFL information from recap highlights on his Facebook timeline wouldn’t know who these players are or what team they play for.
I want to compare what Kaepernick and Co. are doing to what Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James did at the ESPYs this year.
Anthony, Paul, Wade and James are all superstar level players in the NBA. They have a global following. They all have luscious NBA contracts. They have shoes named after them created by the likes of Nike, Jordan and Li-Ning.
They dressed up to a tee and stood on a grand stage, one hand on top of the other as if they were at an obscure church for the first time. They took turns speaking eloquently and articulately about a subject with passion and conviction. And not to mention they did it in front of millions of people.
It was all exemplary and, for lack of a better word, clean.
So it begs the question: why does Kaepernick, a mid-level NFL quarterback, sitting during the national anthem draw more media attention than the carefully crafted speech that superstar NBA players gave in the middle of a nationally televised event?
Because what Kaepernick, Reid and Lane are doing isn’t particularly “safe.”
Let me explain.
When I use the word “safe,” I’m not talking about their immediate safety. I have no reason to believe that their life is in danger.
It’s unsafe in the sense that they are mid level athletes in a wildly popular sport. Kaepernick is reportedly fighting for his starting spot for the 2016-2017 season. To my knowledge, Lane isn’t even a starter in the league. They have minimal endorsements, if any, and to take it a step further, they may have just shunned themselves from potential companies that may have wanted them to rock their gear.
The list of reasons for why Kaepernick and Co. shouldn’t be sitting during the national anthem goes on and on and on.
But here they are. Or more specifically, there they sit, with their helmets off, eyes forward, looking towards the end goal that is equality, sometimes not even visible due to all of the massive bodies that are standing in their way with hands over their hearts.
And, yet, in some odd but powerful way, the blocked off visuals of them kneeling in the sidelines and sitting on benches all by their lonesome, looking like the kids that get bullied in middle school, is making a louder statement than the one made by four global athletes on a rockstar stage dressed in $1000 suits.
I’ll be honest, I was excited to watch some of my favorite NBA players address this nation’s problems at the ESPYs. I truly thought that this is what the country needs.
I was thinking to myself, “Man, this country needs one of the best scorers in the league to address the issues. It needs the best pure point guard to address the issues. It needs a legendary shooting guard to address the issues. It needs the only other man (sorry Kobe, I still love you) that is in the conversation as the greatest to ever do it to address the issues. This is it.”
And as I watched and waited, wanting to hear something great and spectacular, I ended up watching them regurgitate Facebook comments that have been popping up for months.
Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with what they said. I was still extremely glad they stepped out, as the four best friends that anyone could ever have, and addressed the nation, knowing that their star power would have great influence.
But their three minute spiel was something everyone had already heard before. It wasn’t anything new.
To be fair, it’s not on them to come up with something new to add to the argument about the injustices in America. I also understand that what Kaepernick is saying is regurgitated Facebook comments as well.
I believe that our country has come to a point where the arguments on both sides have already been well established and not much can be added on to either of them.
But what I love about what Kaepernick and Co. is doing is that they are breaking the status quo in order for their opinions to be heard. They are risking something for the people. They are making even the strongest supporters against social injustice take a step back and ask, “Wait, is that okay?”
What Anthony and Co. did was just a little too perfect. It seemed like it was supposed to happen. It was planned out. They received permission from ESPN to make those statements and nobody really had a problem with it.
Maybe it was because their place in the NBA hall of fame is already cemented. Maybe it was because it was at the ESPYs. Maybe it was because they’ve reached a level in their careers where they’re practically untouchable.
Or maybe it was because everything that was done and said on that stage was all too comfortable.
What Kaepernick and Co. are doing, however, is cringe-worthy and makes your heart beat a little faster. When’s the last time an athlete didn’t stand with a hand over their heart during the national anthem? On purpose?
This protest reminds me of John Carlos and Tommie Smith during the 1968 Olympics, hands raised, heads bowed. It reminds me of Muhammed Ali taking a stand against the Vietnam War. It reminds me of the deep-rooted pain Jackie Robinson had to endure (if you haven’t already, go read his memoir) for years in order for him to become the man that would break the color barrier in sports. None of these things were okay things to do.
I know, it’s a bold statement. Call it arrogance. Call it ignorance. But I’m willing to put Kaerpernick up there with these legendary activists with confidence and a desperate hope.
This guy is the perfect leader for the cause. The way he answered every question with such elegance and poise after yesterday’s pre-season game says it all.
He is passionate and convicted. He is educated and informed. But most of all, he’s patient and knows how to keep a cool demeanor.
Kaepernick understands that this is just the start. He understands that there’s still a long way to go before the word equality can even be seen at the end of this long, dark tunnel.
The ignorant and controlling comments from the Boomer Esaisons of the world aren’t going to stop. The Tomi Lahrens will continue to be the donkeys of the day. And the same people that are so upset that Kaepernick is taking a knee because he feels America needs to change will continue to ride home from games with “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers on the back of their cars after booing him during the national anthem.
But at the same time, conversations are igniting and re-igniting everywhere. Reporters spent Kaepernick’s entire post-game press conference asking him questions about his protest. News outlets can’t stop talking about it.
It. Is. Working.
And so as you sit, Colin Kaepernick and Co., I will stand alongside you.
Until next time,