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Colin Kaepernick really did beat the NFL

Despite alleged collusion against him, Kaepernick’s activism has set a new precedent for sports

Colin Kaepernick really did beat the NFL

In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem. Shortly after, US veteran and ex-NFL player Nate Boyer explained that kneeling was more honourable than sitting — so Kaepernick listened, and kneeling during the anthem as an act of protest became a pattern throughout the league.

When asked whether he was proud that other players in the NFL followed his protest, Kaepernick said, “This movement wasn’t for me.” In fact, on multiple occasions, Kaepernick has made it clear that the protest has nothing to do with him. On August 27, 2016, an NFL media reporter described Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the anthem as a move to “willingly immerse himself into controversy.” By describing Kaepernick’s actions as “controversy,” the writer implies that the league doesn’t care to hear players speak up and that their opinions amount to unneeded drama and distraction from the sport.

Kaepernick stood by his decision and his reasoning was quite clear. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of colour,” he said in 2016. “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.”

That summer had seen the deaths of numerous African-Americans at the hands of police. Delrawn Small in Brooklyn, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in Saint Paul are just three of the African-Americans who were unjustly killed by law enforcement. And these killings made it impossible for Kaepernick to honour the United States, even if he was a professional football player.

Two and a half years later, on February 15, the NFL settled its collusion case with Kaepernick. Kaepernick had not been on an NFL roster since kneeling during the anthem, and he had filed a lawsuit against the NFL on the basis that the league had colluded to keep him unemployed. Ideally, he would make it onto the field as a quarterback once again, having proven that the league had colluded.

The settlement suggests that the league feared a guilty ruling, and while Kaepernick will undoubtedly get paid a large sum, the ultimate victory would have shown that one can be Black, openly raise awareness about police brutality, and continue playing for the NFL. A settlement does not promise a roster spot.

It is unclear whether Kaepernick’s desires remain with the NFL or are now with activism. Throughout all his activist work, he continues to train daily. His protest has remained mostly silent; news of his activism is seen in the form of other people’s tweets, shots of him in public, words of support from and similar kneeling protests by other notable athletes and political leaders, countless online articles, and a Nike ad, in which he said, “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.”

He has chosen to let others point out why he should still be on the football field. He has not bothered to respond to President Donald Trump’s disrespectful comments. He allowed GQ to publish a feature making him the GQCitizen of the Year in 2017, but refused to be interviewed for the article. He is now the face of Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. Kaepernick’s ability to keep his voice and face in the backdrop but have his name circulate all over media shows the magnitude of athlete protest.

One place where he will allow himself to be seen and heard is in front of American youth. In a 45-minute speech to children at the DREAM school in East Harlem, New York, he told students that they should not shy away from being “just in unjust places,” and that they should “confront ignorance not with ignorance, but with education.” He explained that no matter what you have to sacrifice, “if you see wrong in the world you must say that it is wrong.”

Athlete protests in the past were usually shut down quickly. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were suspended from the US track and field team after raising their fists during the anthem at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

When Muhammad Ali refused the Vietnam draft, he was sentenced to prison, stripped of his championship title, and suspended from boxing in the state of New York. The rationale was that because Ali had made millions off American viewers, there was no reason for him not to show his appreciation by joining the armed forces.

Kaepernick knows the risk he is taking as he delves further into controversy and advocacy. He intentionally keeps his voice out of the media because it is not about him. It is about others. Had Kaepernick covered the protest with his words, the conversation would eventually have revolved around him and not the issues that he hopes to help solve.

He has since donated $1 million to charity and shows no signs of stopping. Although his future on the football field remains precarious, his continued activism presents an ongoing commitment to underserved African-Americans.

Donald Trump has sparked a civil war within the NFL’s fanbase

Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the anthem in 2016

Donald Trump has sparked a civil war within the NFL’s fanbase

With more fans than any other collegiate or professional sport, the NFL boasts the highest league revenues as well as the most lucrative television deal in the world.

Yet in recent years, the NFL and its players have been bombarded with controversy, which has served to polarize the league’s fan base. Players choosing to kneel during the national anthem — and the assorted policy and procedural changes that the NFL adopted to address these player actions — continue to be an ongoing issue, even with the 2018 season kickoff.

Nike’s latest “Just Do It” ad campaign, featuring the leader and face of the movement, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has only served to heighten the debate surrounding the issue.

Kaepernick first popularized the controversial act of kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to highlight racial injustice in the United States. In May 2018, NFL owners finally responded by voting in favour of requiring players to stand during the anthem and threatened to fine teams if players took a knee or weren’t on the field during the national anthem.

As Kaepernick’s social movement has gained momentum, notable individuals like US President Donald Trump have criticized it. Like most critics, Trump believes that kneeling during the anthem is unpatriotic and disrespectful to the men and women who serve in the military. Proponents continue to respond to this point of view by asserting that when athletes take a knee, they are simply practicing their right to free speech.

After the NFL Players Association filed a complaint, Adam Schefter, ESPN’s lead NFL correspondent, reported, “the new policy is going to be no policy,” later explaining that “too many people have stances too strong to figure out a compromise.”

In July, the NFL ultimately decided not to implement the new policy detailing player behaviour during the national anthem and teams sanctions.

By hitting the pause button on their policy, the NFL has recognized that the issue of kneeling during the national anthem is simply too contentious; therefore, the safest course of action is simply to do nothing.

The NFL’s inaction has resulted in a barrage of criticism from Trump. After the first week, the US President continued his social media barrage against the league, tweeting that television ratings for the first game were down from those of last year and “viewership has declined 13%, the lowest in over a decade.”

While Trump would like there to be a link between the NFL’s declining television ratings and players kneeling during the national anthem, the truth is that ratings have been declining for the past couple of years, which is consistent with broader viewership trends across the country. At the same time, the number of players that have decided to overtly protest has also declined, which further discounts Trump’s assertion that kneeling has resulted in lower television ratings.

And while Trump has been extremely vocal about his views regarding this topic, other public figures within the NFL have verbalized their support for the social movement. Detroit Lions principal owner Martha Ford openly challenged his assessment of the situation, saying that “players’ right to express views is part of what makes America great” and that “negative disrespectful comments suggesting otherwise are contrary to the founding principles of our country.”

Even though Kaepernick is no longer in the league, he continues to support players taking a knee to protest racial injustices in the United States and has found a new advocate in Nike. While not all consumers have responded positively to Nike’s new campaign and some have even taken to burning Nike products, the company has seen a 31 per cent increase in sales since the campaign’s launch.

Regardless of one’s stance on the issue, Kaepernick’s message has served to inspire not only NFL owners, players, and fans, but also positively impacted society as a whole.