GQ Magazinehas just named Colin Kaepernick as its “Citizen of the Year.” In a special December issue of the magazine, Kaepernick paired with GQ as well as ten of his closest allies and friends to “reclaim the narrative of his protest.” The magazine calls Kaepernick “the man who became the movement” and referenced the fact that, four years ago, Kaepernick had been on the cover as one of the rising stars in American football.
“In 2013, Colin Kaepernick was on the cover of this magazine because he was one of the best football players in the world. In 2017, Colin Kaepernick is on GQ‘s cover once again—but this time it is because he isn’t playing football. And it’s not because he’s hurt, or because he’s broken any rules, or because he’s not good enough,” GQ wrote in the piece.
The piece also noted:
HE IS STILL, TO THIS DAY, ONE OF THE MOST GIFTED QUARTERBACKS ON EARTH. AND YET HE HAS BEEN LOCKED OUT OF THE GAME HE LOVES—BLACKBALLED—BECAUSE OF ONE SIMPLE GESTURE: HE KNELT DURING THE PLAYING OF OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM. AND HE DID IT FOR A CLEAR REASON, ONE THAT HAS BEEN LOST IN THE YEARLONG STORM THAT FOLLOWED. HE DID IT TO PROTEST SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION AND, MORE SPECIFICALLY, AS HE SAID REPEATEDLY AT THE TIME, POLICE BRUTALITY TOWARD BLACK PEOPLE.
But rather than speaking for himself about his protests, Kaepernick has vowed to keep his silence on the matter, and instead, the piece features ten people close to the former 49ers quarterback who spoke about what the protest means to them and what we can do, as a nation, to keep speaking out against injustice.
The Houston Texans, incensed by team owner Bob McNair’s poorly worded description of players as “inmates,” staged a mass protest during the national anthem prior to Houston’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Virtually all Texans knelt for the anthem, locking arms or holding hands on the sideline. National media in attendance put the number of players standing at about 10. At the NFL owners’ meetings last week, McNair had expressed frustration with the way that the protest had affected the NFL’s business, and said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” He apologized on at least two occasions for that unfortunate turn of phrase, but players were not convinced. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins left the Texans’ facility on Friday after learning of the comments.
The Texans had discussed several options for protest prior to Sunday’s game, including kneeling, sitting, remaining in the locker room during the anthem or peeling the Texans’ logo off their helmets. Clearly, the protest was large, one of the most significant by any single team to date, but not unanimous.
This marked the first time any Texans players had protested during the anthem. Offensive tackle Duane Brown had raised a fist last season, the only demonstration the Texans had shown since protests began in the 2016 preseason. On Friday, Brown called McNair’s comments “embarrassing, ignorant and frustrating.”
Empty sidelines in Nashville and Chicago. Jacksonville owner Shad Khan standing arm in arm with his players. The Miami Dolphins wearing “I’m With Kap” T-shirts during warm-ups. Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis eloquently explaining his change of heart about players protesting during the national anthem. The NFL had one of its finest moments before the games even began Sunday, coming together from every corner – players, coaches, owners and league office – in forceful rebuke of the latest torrent of hate from President Donald Trump.
Whether black, white or brown, on bended knee or with locked arms, the NFL’s rare show of unity was both a dignified condemnation of the wrongs we still must right and a reminder that, for all of our differences, America remains our common ground. “Over the last year, though, the streets have gotten hot and there has been a lot of static in the air and recently, fuel has been added to the fire,” Davis said in a statement. “… Not only do we have to tell people there is something wrong, we have to come up with answers.“That’s the challenge in front of us as Americans and human beings.”
Be it Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali,Billie Jean King or Magic Johnson, sports has long been the prism through which we see society. And fondly as we regard those trailblazers now, that wasn’t always the case. Changing hearts and minds, getting people to shed their stereotypes and ignorance, took sacrifice, anger and, yes, even protest.
In that way, the NFL’s league-wide show of unity was merely the latest in a long history of sports and activism being intertwined. It wasn’t even particularly radical when measured against the outspokenness and activism by current NBA players and coaches.
But what made Sunday so stunning was how out of character it was, a seismic shift for a league that has been loath to allow any kind of individuality or personal expression. The NFL barely tolerates touchdown celebrations, let alone a call to acknowledge the pervasive racism that marginalizes a good portion of our country.
Maybe that’s what Trump was counting on with his remarks Friday — and again Saturday and Sunday — that were as ignorant as they were inflammatory, yet more racist dog whistles for his base. Perhaps he figured the league that has effectively blackballed Colin Kaepernick would let his thinly veiled bigotry pass in uncomfortable silence.
But the NFL showed Sunday that Trump has badly overplayed his hand.
“We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country,” the Seattle Seahawks said in a statement announcing that the team would stay in the locker room during the national anthem.
Even in a league where blinders might as well be part of the uniform, it was not lost on anyone that Trump found a way to defend Nazi protesters yet called Kaepernick and anyone else who protested during the national anthem a “son of a (expletive).” Ditto for his history of calling out and criticizing people of color while letting egregious behavior by whites go unchallenged.
The demonstrations by Kaepernick and the other players who have joined in are not about the national anthem or the military or the flag. They never have been. They are about the racism that continues to be pervasive in our society, manifesting itself in police brutality, economic inequality and disparity in education and opportunity.
No one is naïve enough to assume the NFL will now be the standard bearer in this latest fight for civil rights; moving as all the demonstrations were, it did not go unnoticed that the theme was “unity” rather than inequality, and that very few white players took a knee.
Today I woke up to a Facebook post that my roommate from college shared on her feed. Her response to that tauntingly generic Facebook encouragement— “What’s on your mind?” seemed a little more perturbed, urgent and determined than usual: “This is a must read! #blacklivesmatter#takeaknee and if u don’t like my hashtags feel free to unfollow me.” Whoa… okay, she had my attention. I found my glasses and I was in. The share was an essay by Solange Knowles about her recent experience with racial discrimination at a Kraftwerk concert.
The essay is entitled “And Do You Belong? I Do…”, and the title is a pretty good indication of what follows. Here we go, I thought… I am about to read about how someone had caused Beyoncé’s sister to feel some type of way. I knew it would be a truthful expression of Solange having to deal with some, well… ignorant mess. I’ve certainly been there. This was going to be a level of discrimination probably more than the norm though, because why else make such an effort to share?
Solange’s essay is thought-provoking and definitely worth the read. She is insightful and honest about her past experiences with racial discrimination, as well as her recent encounter while trying to dance and enjoy music with her family.
Though the content of the post is not surprising – again, so many of us have been there – the trash throwing did surprise me. (Yes, someone throws trash at Solange and her family.) Really?? It was taken there??? But instead of responding in the moment in a way that likely would have brought negative attention to her and her family, I have to applaud Solange for instead turning to Twitter, then laying it out there again in writing, as well as covering the anticipated naysayers with intelligent responses.
We are reminded by her action that knowledge is power, well-chosen words are power, and speaking up in protest is power. I think it’s important that she bravely lays it out there for the world to hear.