A toned and tattoo-having football player, wearing bright red and gold colors, resembled the aspiring athletes from my home a lot. I admired his look, his football and that he was born in Wisconsin like me. His name rang a bell even before turning his neatly cut hair into an outrageous afro and collapsing to his knees in protest, which resembled people from my home, too.
Colin Kaepernick has been the lead of a professional team through consecutive successful seasons, one of which resulted in the coveted Superbowl game. The others were conference games where the team came simply close to making it all the way to the Superbowl. Colin Kaepernick was just starting out in his professional career when all of this happened and everyone was starting to pay attention to him, even as he was performing as a back-up Quarterback. He was doing amazing things, and we could have gotten away with caring less about what he was doing off the football field. Within a prime phase of his professional career, it is truly amazing to find out that Kaepernick thinks very highly of his behavior off the field and very publicly, so we must not divert our attention.
Colin’s attention to what goes on off the football field sparks the interest in the peculiar information that the public often experiences with its figures. In this case, we didn’t ask for it. We can never beg for justice, especially from those whose politics we are unsure of. The time we begged for justice did not end the way we wanted – with a conversation with O.J. Simpson about black bodies in the United States in the 1960s. Fists were raised in resemblance of the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics, and O.J. Simpson declining to participate became a distraction. O.J.’s reasoning had been an interesting distraction for protesters. A debate formed around the perception of African-American public figures – a debate which O.J. described as between being viewed as “an athlete” vs “a black athlete,” or one associated with something other than his talent. Most were understanding of an athlete wanting to focus on his career and wanting no distractions. Protesters understood what this meant also: the Civil Rights Movement hadn’t yet reached ties with the glorious realm of sports and entertainment.
These ties became an example of what protesting has always been about. It is this knowledge of protesting which lays aside not only the privileges of race, but those connected to public influence and power. It is this knowledge of protesting which propels protest from private chats about racism with black athletes to Olympic stages where black athletes can themselves say what they would have been coerced to say in private and this happened without saying a word. Ultimately, fists were raised in 1968 without O.J. Simpson. The crowd went nuts for the sport and the protest, so no one would have imagined that decades later, a protest at a live event would have to be done without the support of the public. When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem during a live event, it was random and exceptional, unlike anything we have seen before. In 2 minutes, Colin Kaepernick gave us the peculiar information that the public often experiences with its figures, and we did not have to ask for it.
Colin took justice, and the support he had did not seem to matter. The first time that Colin refused to stand for the National Anthem during a game was at risk for being ignored. It could have been addressed in the locker rooms between Coach and Player and filed to the media as “addressed in confidentiality.” Then, Colin did it again and again, and it could not have been ignored. Some outrage began.
Some outrage about the space in which he used began. The hook in this outrage was not only that it was neatly concealed in the presses, written by professionals in celebrity business who would have liked everyone to believe that they call Kaepernick up about such civil matters and others in the sports industry who could have done the same and then some, such as, offer a suspension or banning for his protest, just like other sports organizations have done to guests at the spur of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. The hook was that we have long known confrontation to protest. We have seen protesters jailed during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, even as it was being led by a Church Minister who persisted that the outcome of things, even bad things, would be good. When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem during a live event, the media could not have been fooled into thinking it was perfect and staged and the media could not have fooled anyone into thinking it was perfect and staged. It was too random and exceptional.
As convincing as it is to believe that anything interrupting a sports program other than showcasing the National Anthem and honoring our troops with it is unworthy of our National attention, it is likewise convincing to challenge the very notion of interrupting a sports program at all. To do so, then, to be the one to pause for a cause, is not only a challenge of the notions, but a changing of it.
Sports have been changed by tools other than the sport, even as we conveniently decide that all we have ever wanted to see is men colliding with each other when the protesting tool is used. If watching men collide with each other is all we have ever wanted to see, a halftime show would not exist, let alone watching American musical acts dance during this time. With all our intelligence and decision-making, we know what to watch with our entertainment filter and what to watch with our political filter.
What I admire about Colin Kaepernick’s protest is that he continued it as if it were a dance routine, in style. He kneeled while everyone stood and looked face forward. While everyone outraged, he remained peaceful. He is in his football uniform, holding his helmet, as Quarterbacks do. Colin Kaepernick explained that he did this because of recent injustices of police brutality. What he and other protesters see is not the honoring of troops with the American Flag. Kaepernick, along with other protesters, see the dishonor of everyday citizens by those who honor and are honored by the American Flag every day. When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem during a live event, he made everyone see what he saw.
Our other men in uniform, whom we trust to keep our streets at home safe, have committed questionable acts of policing and noticeably more excessively on those who look like Kaepernick – those with un-straightened hair and tinted skin complexion, and sometimes with a red and gold uniform, which we are then expected to find some relief in after our Fathers and Sons and Mothers and Daughters have been brutalized.
We find more than relief in the red and gold uniform, in watching men collide with each other for our entertainment and theirs. When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem during a live event, he was not interrupting our entertainment any more or less than he was his own. When he finally stood, he threw a helmet over his afro, placed a fist around a football, and played the game we all wanted to see. The crowd went nuts, for the sport and the protest.