Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Kaepernick: Not The First And He Won’t Be The Last
2016 Wednesday 7TH
by Morning Star in Sport

KADEEM SIMMONDS looks at the latest athlete to stand against racial injustice in the US and how before the NFL quarterback there was Abdul-Rauf, who prayed during the national anthem

Every few months, something happens to prove that sport and politics can, and do, mix. Recently we have had the US basketball players, both men and women, who have stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement recently.

Not only have players of the NBA and WNBA used their position in society to speak out against the racial injustices currently ongoing in the United States but so has Serena Williams, all following on in the footsteps of other black athletes who over the decades have refused to stand by and idly watch the mistreatment of ethnic minorities in the United States.

The most recent athlete is San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick. When he entered the league in 2011, he was seen as the future of the quarterback position due to his athletic play style.

When he led the 49ers to the SuperBowl the following season, narrowly losing 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens, he was adored by fans of the franchise.

Fast forward five years, to August 26 to be exact, and these same fans are now burning his number seven jersey simply because he has decided to stand up and be heard regarding police brutality on black men and women.

Kaepernick’s protest has sparked mass debate in the United States. For those unaware, the 28-year-old was spotted sitting on the bench during the national anthem before San Francisco’s third pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.

People lost their minds. How dare he show such disrespect to the flag? Who does he think he is? One fan even asked what did Kaepernick have to be oppressed about given he signed a $126 million contract a few years ago.

I’m not going to paraphrase what Kaepernick said, for fear of diluting his message or mixing up why he is choosing to take such a powerful method in getting his point across.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaepernick said. “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 hatred and anger towards him seems misplaced, in that people don’t really know why he is protesting. They see someone being disrespectful during the national anthem and they don’t need to know why. They just know they hate him.

People in the US don’t seem to be listening to why Kaepernick is refusing to stand. Or even noticing to be honest.

He had been taking action for the two weeks prior to the Packers game without anyone talking about it.

He isn’t doing this for the publicity, to get his name back into the public as he battles to the starting QB this weekend. He says that “this is for people that don’t have the voice. And this is for people that are being oppressed and need to have equal opportunities to be successful, to provide for families and not live in poor circumstances.”

Kaepernick has been speaking out for months and no-one was paying any attention.

This issue is so much bigger than football and people are trying to pretend that it is all about him and that he should be cut from the 49ers roster immediately, despite the fact that he has the support of some of his teammates.

Last Thursday night in San Diego, he and safety Eric Reid kneeled during the anthem before a game against the Chargers.

This was a change in tactic from Kaepernick, who had previously been sitting on the bench.

The reason he kneeled was because he was convinced by Nate Boyer, a former football player and Green Beret.

“I was hoping he was going to stand up. I would have loved that even more,” Boyer said the day after. “But I understand what he’s doing and I respect the right to do that.

“It was nice to see him give a little ground here to show he was willing to take a step forward and listen. That’s an important step for a person in his position to get across.

“He’s showing that he’s open in this conversation as well. It’s not just saying: ‘I’m going to sit until someone else fixes the problem.’ It’s more about: ‘I give you a little, you give me a little and let’s try to work it out.’”

Interestingly, where was Boyer when Kaepernick was kneeling down?

Standing alongside him.

I’ve never had the privilege of interviewing Kaepernick but from listening to journalists that have, they speak of him as a quiet individual who is really quiet and shy in front of the media. One that doesn’t seek out publicity and listening to him speak now that is still the same.

Kaepernick has been told that he is going about this the “wrong way,” to which he said: “I don’t understand how it’s the wrong way. To me, this is a freedom that we’re allowed in this country. And going back to the military, it’s a freedom that men and women that have fought for this country have given me this opportunity by contributions they have made.

“So I don’t see it as going about it the wrong way. This is something that has to be said, it has to be brought to the forefront of everyone’s attention and when that’s done, I think people can realise what the situation is and then really effect change.

“And the fact that it has blown up like this, I think it’s a good thing. It brings awareness. Everybody knows what’s going on and this sheds more light on it.”

This really has blown up. Since people noticed what he was doing, his shirt sales have skyrocketed, selling out in multiple places.

On Sunday night, Seattle Reign’s Megan Rapinoe knelt down in support of Kaepernick and while she spoke at length about why she chose to take a stand, I found this particular quote the most poignant: “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”

This is moving across sports and it will be interesting to see how many black players stand up, or kneel down, with Kaepernick when the league starts tomorrow night.

It even has the support of United States President Barack Obama. “My understanding is he is exercising his constitutional right to make a statement,” he said on Monday. “I think there is a long history of sports figures doing so.

“I think there are a lot of ways you can do it, as a general matter when it comes to the flag and the national anthem and the meaning that that holds for our men and women in uniform and those who fought for us — that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his deeper concerns are but I don’t doubt his sincerity based on what I’m told.”

Mr Obama raised a valid point. “I think there is a long history of sports figures doing so.” There are.

From Muhammad Ali, who after his passing was praised for being a sporting political activist, to John Carlos and Tommie Smith and their raised fists at the 1968 Olympics and even to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Abdul-Rauf, born Chris Jackson before converting to Islam in 1993, was an NBA player in the ’90s. During the 1995-1996 season, he told the Denver Nuggets that he no longer wanted to stand for the national anthem.

The league told the Nuggets to deal with the situation discreetly. But in 1995, during the trial of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City Bombing, people noticed what he was doing and began calling him a traitor.

His response? On March 10, he sat down in the middle of the anthem. After the game, he told the media that considered the flag “a symbol of oppression, of tyranny” and that he would continue to refuse to stand for the anthem.

The league suspended him without pay indefinitely hours after his protest, saying that there was a rule that required players, coaches and trainers to “stand and line up in a dignified posture” during the US and Canadian anthems.

The indefinite suspension lasted a day as the league reached an agreement with Abdul-Rauf whereby he would stand but pray silently into his hands.

Could you imagine that happening today? With the Islamaphobia in the US, I shudder to think what the ramifications could be for a Muslim player praying during the national anthem and that isn’t from the sporting body, but from the someone in the crowd.

Even though an agreement was reached, it doesn’t change the fact that it was an awful decision to reach.

The NFL, with its history of fining players for wearing boots which don’t match team colours, haven’t and won’t fine or suspend Kaepernick.

And the quarterback isn’t going to stop. “Yes. I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change.

“When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

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