There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically is police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. Cops are getting paid leave for killing people. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.
That was Colin Kaepernick’s response in 2016 when asked what specifically would need to change in order for him to stand up during the national anthem. Of course, we all know what has happened since Kaepernick made his cause known a year ago.
His actions are the reason he remains unsigned, even as less-talented quarterbacks have roster spots. And depending on whom you ask, his name either represents all that’s wrong with the NFL or all that’s wrong with millionaire athletes who won’t just stick to sports. But one thing few people did not see coming when he started his mission is the Kaepernick effect, which reached its apex Sunday.
In that same media scrum where he mentions police brutality, Kaepernick said that he wanted his gesture to raise awareness of what’s going on in America. As vague an objective as “raising awareness” can be, Kaepernick accomplished that. Bring his name up at a dinner party with mixed company and watch some people excuse themselves for a fake bathroom break. To talk about Kaepernick is to talk about a racist country that still doesn’t know how to treat people of color fairly. Football would simply be a footnote.
But even as it pertains to football, Kaepernick’s name is omnipresent. When a quarterback goes down with an injury, give it an hour and start seeing reports and analysis of how he would fit on that team. Every major player at some point has been asked if they think Kaepernick should have a job (Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers have all gone on record and said that he should). Many other players who are still in the league continue to kneel, keeping Kaepernick’s cause alive.
That Kaepernick is out of the league but his form of protest is still being expressed by other players has pissed off a lot of people whom I would describe as white. This is especially true of President Donald Trump.
Last Friday, Trump described the players who continue to kneel as sons of bitches at a rally in Alabama. He then tweeted about how owners should fire or suspend players who didn’t stand for the anthem. But nobody bosses rich men around, not even other rich men, so what did the owners do? They spoke up.
Yesterday, if players weren’t kneeling, sitting or stretching during the anthem, they were locking arms. If they weren’t doing either, it’s probably because they stayed in the locker room to skip the anthem altogether. With the exception of the Dallas Cowboys, every single NFL team put out a statement of solidarity. And while some people will say, “Look, progress!” I said, “And … ?”
The fact of the matter is, yesterday’s protests were to defend “the shield,” a term Commissioner Roger Goodell likes to use when talking about the NFL brand. Once Trump started telling the owners what to do, the owners and the league had to defend themselves. Even Trump’s homey and Kaepernick hater Ray Lewis had to get down on his knees. So like a bad game of telephone, Kaepernick’s cause got distorted into a protest about flags and against Trump, when it was never intended to be against anybody. It was for people of color.
But like most forms of protest that become a hashtag for us, #TakeTheKnee morphed into an all-lives-matter-esque, watered-down version of NFL players and owners against Trump. Never mind that Trump wasn’t even in office when Kaepernick began his protest. Of the teams who issued statements, seven mentioned the president, two used the words “social injustice,” two others mentioned working with local police departments and one of them (Seattle Seahawks) specifically said they were protesting on behalf of people of color.
It’s clear that NFL teams have no problem making statements when they’re being called out, but none of those statements were in support of Kaepernick, who, by the way, is still unsigned. And since the NFL knows it can’t kick every player who kneels out of the league, it decided to give players a day to protest how they’d like. In total, an estimated 150 players got down on a knee, and I’m willing to bet the number will never be that high again because the NFL still has made it uncomfortable for black players to advocate for causes that pertain to black people.
There is a tendency to celebrate days like yesterday as historic, but in four years or less, Trump will no longer be president, and all the issues Kaepernick took a knee for will probably still be happening. We probably will never see another day in the NFL like the one we saw on Sept. 24, 2017, and what’s sad is that we will probably need it.