Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Progressive Perspectives on Colin Kaepernick and the "Take A Knee" Movement

I dare say that for those Americans unaware of the movement involving NFL players and others kneeling during the playing of the national anthem so as to protest police brutality and racial disparity, things changed in a big way this past weekend. And it was a dramatic gaining of consciousness due entirely to comments made by President Donald Trump about the NFL players who are "taking a knee."

During a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, last Friday, Trump said such player protests were “a total disrespect of our heritage.”

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired’?” Trump said.

Numerous NFL players quickly condemned Trump’s comments, and the NFL itself released an official statement on Saturday calling the remarks “divisive” and disrespectful.

More significantly, NFL player protests swept the entire league this past weekend in response to Trump's hostile remarks.

Colin Kaepernick: American hero

The "take the knee" movement was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who, during the 2016 season, began not standing while the national anthem was played before the start of games. Kaepernick's decision to remain seated (and then later kneel) during the anthem was his way of protesting systemic racism and police killings of black Americans in the U.S.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said in a locker room interview on August 28, 2016. In the same interview he also noted that, "There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards."

How bad is the problem of police in the U.S. shooting black people? Well, just in the year after Kaepernick first began to protest, police and law enforcement officials killed at least 223 black Americans, according to a HuffPost analysis of data compiled by The Washington Post and The Guardian. The latter reported that in 2015 young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers. Furthermore, their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.

Over the next year, as numerous NFL players joined Kaepernick, police across the United States killed at least 222 other black Americans ― culminating with the death, on August 13 of this year, of Patrick Harmon, a 50-year-old black man shot and killed by police in Salt Lake City.

Kaepernick's protest sparked nationwide controversy both inside and outside of sports. In the eyes of many, however, much of outrage was short-sighted, misplaced, and/or hypocritical, as the following op-ed cartoons highlight.

Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions in 12 starts for the 49ers last season. He has been a free agent since he opted out of his contract with the team on March 1 (the 49ers, who went 2-14 last season, would have cut him had he not opted out, new general manager John Lynch said in May).

Kaepernick's free agency status has been the subject of much discussion and controversy, with many believing that his protests, and not performance, were the reason he was not signed with a team for the 2017 season.

Regardless of the reason he remains unsigned, Kaepernick is an immensely popular and inspiring figure. Personally, I consider him an American hero. His nonviolent protest against racial injustice has been likened to the activism of Martin Luther King, Jr. His jersey led the 49ers’ sales from March to May this year, and many are inspired by his generous financial support of organizations working in oppressed communities. It's even been suggested that Kaepernick be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Above: Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem last year. (Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Following are a number of progressive perspectives on Colin Kaepernick and the "Take a Knee" movement he started.

In demonstration of complete ignorance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings and beliefs, Clemson University’s football coach Dabo Swinney claimed King would not have supported Kaepernick. Anyone with actual knowledge of what King stood for knows he would have rejoiced at a rich, Black athlete risking fame and fortune by nonviolently protesting for justice. If college athletes are being taught something different it is blasphemy, not truth.

Kaepernick isn’t the first athlete to speak out, though he does it without the perils to those who came before him. John Carlos and Tommie Smith [right] raised fists and were kicked out of the Olympics. Muhammed Ali refused to step forward in his draft line; he lost his title. Jackie Robinson was in a WWII segregated military unit and refused to stand up when he was ordered to the back of the bus, taking a court-martial instead.

Today Robinson is an American icon. No player in Major League Baseball wears number 42 — except for one day of the season when all players on all teams wear it.

Robinson wrote about his first World Series game: “There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion. . . . As I write this 20 years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

Kaepernick surely had it better than the Black athletes who came before him, but there simply is no denying how pervasive racial injustice remains in our country. His critics might not want to be reminded of racial injustice while watching football, but imagine if they had to live with it.

– Jeffery Robinson
Excerpted from "Standing Up for Justice by Kneeling During Anthem"
Inside Sources
September 11, 2017

Above: Colin Kaepernick in 2016. (Photo: Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

Ever since [. . .] white people first expressed the initial outrage (the kind they’ve sustained and that has resulted in Kaepernick still being unemployed), I’ve been looking to these same people for some semblance of grief at the unapologetic racism on display in this country, some anger at the pattern of supremacy and privilege in this Administration, some outrage at the sickening deja vu Americans of color are experiencing.

But I’m finding none of these things. Instead I’m finding victim blaming and rationalizing and elaborate efforts to tell us why our eyes aren’t seeing what they’re seeing.

I know what my eyes see. I know what they see over and over and over again.

They see humanity ignored, they see fear metastasized, and they see white people excusing away violence and discrimination and murder — instead of facing the brutal truth that maybe institutional racism is real and maybe Colin Kaepernick and his brethren are worth listening to, and maybe they shouldn’t be vilified outliers who we’re trying to shut-up.

Maybe we should all be kneeling right now.

White friends, if your immediate response to the shooting of a man or woman of color is to try and justify why he or she is dead instead of asking why they were shot, you may be the problem here.

If you’re more comfortable calling out kneeling football players than marching nazis with torches, you may want to ask why that is.

– John Pavlovitz
Excerpted from "White America, It’s Time to Take a Knee"
The Intercept
September 20, 2017

Above: Ravens players never protested during the national anthem before last Sunday's game against the Jaguars, who also all knelt. (Photo: AP/Matt Dunham)

Trump directed some of the harshest words of his presidency not at ascendant neo-Nazis or even opposition politicians, but peaceful NFL stars, many of them black, taking a knee to bring attention to a cause they care about deeply. What makes this so unique is that it wasn’t a Joe Biden hot mic moment: It was an intentional attack on free speech.

The outrage was instantaneous. Athletes and entertainers expressed their disgust. Soon, the remarks became a national, and even international, discussion.

Then came Sunday. It was the largest single day of protest in NFL history. Instead of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, 19 teams had about 200 players who participated in protests of some kind; many took a knee or had a seat during the national anthem. Three teams opted not to come out for the anthem at all.

And they weren’t alone: The protesting players were joined by owners, some of whom even decided to go down to the field to lock arms with their players as a form of solidarity. Front offices from team after team blasted Trump’s words at the Alabama rally in official press statements and tweeted infographics — all saying some version of how much they disagreed with Trump’s divisive tone or rhetoric.

And that’s where we have to pause.

The popular demands on NFL executives and owners to speak out against Trump seem strange. Most NFL owners and general managers are unknown to your average American. But here’s the thing: What Trump said about NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem was hardly different from what NFL owners have not only said, but actually done to Kaepernick.

. . . Kaepernick has been effectively banned from the NFL by owners and management who hate his guts like they do traitors and murderers.

That’s why what happened yesterday was perplexing. Some of the team owners showing solidarity with their players had made million-dollar donations to Trump’s inaugural committee, knowing full well where he was coming from. And many of the same team executives who were releasing statements and locking arms in support of players have shown their own disdain for Kaepernick — some, presumably, were the same ones who trashed him to Bleacher Report, others simply failed to show Kaepernick solidarity by refusing to give him a shot at playing again.

Trump learned his disdain for protesting players from them. Way before he called protesting players sons of bitches, the team executives were saying, fuck Colin Kaepernick.

Never mind that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the two best quarterbacks in the game, say Kaepernick should be in the league. Never mind the fact that some teams are still winless with quarterbacks who are struggling through every single quarter. Before Trump said a single word in Alabama, those teams had already shut Kaepernick out.

What the NFL players did yesterday was genuine — real solidarity with one of their own. But what most of those team owners and general managers did was marketing. It was, in the words of ESPN’s Howard Bryant, “performance art.” It looked and felt real, but was as counterfeit as a $3 bill. These owners and general managers put on a beautiful show yesterday, but as long as Kaepernick, in the prime of his physical career, is unemployed, they clearly lack the courage of their convictions. Kaepernick should’ve been on the field yesterday.

– Shaun King
Excerpted from "NFL Owners and Executives
Who Protested Donald Trump Are the Biggest Hypocrites Yet
The Intercept
September 25, 2017

Above: Not just the players. Cheerleader Raianna Brown kneels at her Georgia Tech football game on Saturday, September 23, 2017. (Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Black people in protest, be they rich or poor, famous or obscure, have always made the powers that be uncomfortable. Because to be black and to be conscious and to have a voice flies in the face of white supremacy. As a result, while Nazis can be afforded the right to march freely and proudly through American cities, it is conceivably never OK for black people to speak out against what they perceive as injustice and oppression.

Some people, like Browns coach Hue Jackson, have argued that on the field or in the locker room is not the proper venue for protest. But what is ever the right venue, when it comes to black people in protest? Black people march in the streets, and they’re branded as a whole as thuggish rioters and looters. Black people quietly take a knee on basketball courts or football fields, and they’re branded as ungrateful and unpatriotic. Black people share their opinions on white supremacy via Twitter, and suddenly they’re loose cannons who should be fired.

This, of course, is white supremacy at work. The criticisms of the NFL athletes who have largely led this new wave of silent protest during the National Anthem isn’t really about respect (those who have died defending this country also died for the right of American citizens to protest). It’s about controlling black people, and, most of all, actively dismissing the very real concerns and issues that these protests are calling out.

– Zeba Blay
Excerpted from "What It Really Means When
Black People Who Protest Are Called ‘Ungrateful’
The Huffington Post
September 25, 2017

Above: Players from the Indianapolis Colts take a knee.
(Photographer unknown)

While [the] NFL protests may be unpopular right now, particularly with white people,1 similar protests in the past — involving race, civil rights and varying definitions of patriotism — came to be viewed much more positively after the fact.

Marches for civil rights during the 1960s were generally seen negatively at the time. As the Washington Post noted last year, most Americans didn’t approve of the Freedom Riders, the March on Washington in 1963 or other similar protests. In fact, many Americans thought that these protests would hurt the advancement of civil rights. In addition, but many Americans held mixed-to-negative views of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. In a 1966 Gallup survey, 63 percent of Americans gave King a negative score on a scale from -5 to +5. Now, the civil rights marches are viewed as major successes, and just 4 percent of Americans rated King negatively on that same scale in a 2011 Gallup poll.

Many Americans also viewed gay rights marchers during the AIDS epidemic negatively. According to Business Insider, the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in April 1993 drew more than 800,000 people fighting against discrimination and seeking more funding for AIDS research. But in a Newsweek survey conducted at the time, only 23 percent of Americans thought that the demonstration did more good than harm in the fight for gay rights. Today, gay rights organizations celebrate the march, same-sex marriage is legal and much of the platform demanded by protesters seems mainstream.

The polling on the marches for black and gay civil rights underscores a fundamental truth about surveys: They merely measure how people feel at the time the polls are conducted. People can change their minds later. Civil rights protests, moreover, tend to involve a minority making demands of society at large, and so by definition begin as “unpopular” — which means that their initial unpopularity doesn’t tell us much about how they’ll ultimately be viewed.

– Harry Enten
Excerpted from "The NFL Protests May Be Unpopular Now,
But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll End That Way
September 25, 2017

Stay focused. The NFL protests are not about Trump, the military or respect for the flag. They are about police violence against people of color and the systemic racism in the United States that precipitates and excuses them. Every time we talk about these important acts of high-profile resistance in other terms we diminish their impact by diluting their message.

– Unknown
via Facebook
September 25, 2017

Related Off-site Links:
ColinThe Leveret (June 22, 2017).
U.S. Veterans Are Coming to Colin Kaepernick’s Defense in Droves – Maxwell Strachan (The Huffington Post, August 31, 2016).
A Tale of Two Christianities on Its Knees: Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick – Michael Frost (Mike, May 3, 2017).
Colin Kaepernick Has Donated $700K of His $1 Million Pledge to 24 Different Organizations – Mark Hinog (SB Nation, June 3, 2017).
The Unexpected Connection Between Slavery, NFL Protests and the National Anthem – AJ Willingham (CNN, August 22, 2017).
Star-Spangled Bigotry: The Hidden Racist History of the National Anthem – Jason Johnson (The Root, July 4, 2016).
Why Colin Kaepernick Matters – Samuel G. Freedman (, August 15, 2017).
The Awakening of Colin Kaepernick – John Branch (The New York Times, September 7, 2017).
Calling Kaepernick "Son of a Bitch," Trump Urges NFL to Fire All Protesting Players – Jon Queally (Common Dreams, September 23, 2017).
Colin Kaepernick’s Mom Has No Time For Trump Calling Her Son A ‘Son Of A Bitch’ – Sam Levine (The Huffington Post, September 23, 2017).
I Tried to Defend Colin Kaepernik and This Is What I Learned – MarquetteAlumProgressive (Daily Kos, September 23, 2017).
NFL Players, Coaches, and Owners Lock Arms and Kneel During National (September 24, 2017).
NFL Players Kneel for Anthem In Unprecedented Defiance of Trump – Bryan Armen Graham and Martin Pengelly (The Guardian, September 24, 2017).
Take the Knee: Athletes Unite in Historic Protest Against Racism and Police Brutality, Defying TrumpDemocracy Now! (September 24, 2017).
Why Is Trump Condemning Football Players More Harshly Than White Supremacists? – Jacqueline Thomsen (The Hill, September 24, 2017).
The Long History of Civil Rights Protests Making White People Uncomfortable – Judd Legum (Think Progress, September 25, 2017).
I Understand Why They Knelt – David French (National Review, September 25, 2017).
Dallas Sportscaster on NFL Players Taking a Knee: "All of Us Should Protest How Black Americans Are Treated in This Country" – Emma Baccellieri (Deadspin, September 25, 2017).
Jesse Williams: NFL National Anthem Is a "Scam" to Boost Military Recruitment – Cavan Sieczkowski (The Huffington Post, September 25, 2017).
Trump Fixates on NFL Protests — While Ignoring the Disaster in Puerto Rico – Heather Digby Parton (Salon, September 25, 2017).
It's Bigger Than Trump. It's Bigger Than Kaepernick – Charles Pierce (Esquire, September 25, 2017).
All of the Work, None of the Credit: Don't Drop the Ball on the WNBA's Activism – Britni de la Cretaz (Bitch Media, September 26, 2017).
Congresswoman Takes a Knee on the House Floor to Protest Donald Trump’s NFL Remarks – Lee Moran (The Huffington Post, September 26, 2017).
Why Do Whites Oppose the NFL Protests? – Steve Chapman (The Chicago Tribune, September 26, 2017).
Sponsors Are Dropping NFL Players for Protesting. This Is What We Mean When We Say ‘White Supremacy’ – Michael Harriot (The Root, September 26, 2017).

UPDATES: Colin Kaepernick Is Named Citizen of the Year by GQ Magazine – Chuck Schilken (Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2017).
Colin Kaepernick is Recipient of 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award – Michael Rosenberg (Sports Illustrated, November 30, 2017).
Colin Kaepernick Named Face of Nike's 30th Anniversary of 'Just Do It' Campaign – Tim Daniels (Bleacher Report, September 3, 2018).
Don’t Speak for My Military Family: A Veteran’s Wife on Colin Kaepernick and the Nike Boycott – Lily Burana (Salon, September 5, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In Charlottesville, the Face of Terrorism In the U.S.
Trump's America: Normalized White Supremacy and a Rising Tide of Racist Violence
On International Human Rights Day, Saying "No" to Donald Trump and His Fascist Agenda
Welcome to America . . .
"This Doesn't Happen to White People"
Remembering Philando Castile and Demanding Abolition of the System That Targets and Kills People of Color

1 comment:

northierthanthou said...

Did you see how many people were hard at work trying to distinguish Kaepernick from MLK yesterday? Mostly by saying of Kaepernick pretty much the same things once said of MLK.