When Colin Kaepernick took a knee on September 1, 2016, the sports world and conservative media threw a conniption about the irreverence of a young Black man exercising his First Amendment right of free speech by kneeling during the National Anthem. The cause – racial injustice exemplified by police violence against Blacks – particularly Black men. Fast forward, four years, and after the brutal murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman who decided to push his knee into Floyd’s windpipe, a number of “superstars” of the NFL and its Commissioner Roger Goodell have found their jockstraps which they evidently didn’t need the past 4 years.
Kaepernick’s ridicule, public scorn, and eventual blackball from the NFL are well documented. I’m reminded of lessons learned long ago when it comes to standing on principle – or in this case kneeling on principle. You often stand alone. Kaepernick drew the disdain of teammates, coaches, owners, and ultimately the President of the United States. Where was Goodell then? Rewind to his address to the media at Super Bowl LI – see USA Today, Roger Goodell on Colin Kaepernick: ‘We believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL’ Then it was all about patriotism and uniting the country. He goes on to say that “we have to choose respectful ways of doing that [highlighting injustice] so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.” Freedom of speech and expression (First Amendment) has long been valued as cornerstones of democracy in the United States – unless you’re Black. I refuse to dignify our page with his rambling rhetoric so find it on your own.
Let us not give the NFL players and DeMaurice Fitzgerald Smith, the African American Executive Director of the National Football League Players’ Association a pass either. Had they taken a knee in 2016 to defend Kaepernick and stand up for racial injustice how might that have changed things? It could have brought a billion-dollar industry to its knees and caught the attention of the public. It would have signaled that Black men are more than physical specimens to be used and tossed aside on the new plantation known as the pro football field. When you devalue yourself – do you really expect anyone else to value you? When Black lives don’t matter to all of us then they won’t matter to anyone else.
The history of murder by police should have been enough not only to bring Black players to their knees but every player, fan, coach, general manager, owner, priest, and politician of every major professional sport. NPR captures the seriousness in A Decade of Watching Black People Die highlighted by this graphic representation.
The sad thing is that even that list doesn’t account for all of the local stories that don’t make national attention like Marqueese “Queese” Alston, see Murder by Police is Still Murder. Or DaQuan Young who lost his life on the evening of May 9, 2018. Every major city in America can probably compile its own list of Black men and women who have either lost their lives to police brutality or find themselves on the wrong end of the criminal justice system. Was Kapernick a prophet? Doubtful. Did he do it to bring attention to himself? Only he knows for sure. Was he willing to sacrifice a multi-million dollar career in the NFL? Hell yes!
So to all the phony, johnny come lately NFL Commissioner and superstars who have found the courage to stand up now, I say, “Go to hell!” I’ll reserve my respect for the hundreds of thousands of young faces that have taken to the streets risking Covid-19, brazen police brutality, tear gas, pepper spray, and stun grenades to be heard, seen and take a knee for George Floyd and all the people of color who find themselves pressed under the knee of racial injustice.