Nearly 1,000 people showed up at the New York City headquarters of the National Football League Wednesday in support of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback many see as being unfairly blackballed for “taking a knee” during the national anthem.
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback knelt during the 2016 season to bring light to police brutality and the sanctity of black lives in America and, incredibly, has not been signed to any NFL team, though several lesser players have been.
“We shouldn’t penalize someone for an issue that has nothing to do with the NFL,” said Haron Hargrave, 31, who came to the march from the city’s Queens borough. “Colin Kaepernick has great stats. He led his team to the Super Bowl and was rated top 10 last year. In limited action, he had 15 touchdowns, four interceptions. Jay Cutler, who played for the Chicago Bears, got a $10 million contract and he didn’t want to play football. They got him off the couch. So it’s not fair that Colin Kaepernick, who wants to play football, can’t.”
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“We are here because we believe that Colin Kaepernick deserves a job,” said political pundit Symone Sanders from a makeshift stage set up on Park Avenue. “We also believe that the National Football League has been complicit in the [ostracizing] of Colin Kaepernick, and today it’s time for the NFL to take a stand.”
The United We Stand rally was co-sponsored by the Justice League NYC, the People’s Consortium for Human and Civil Rights, the Women’s March, Color of Change, the Rainbow Push Coalition and Kappa Alpha Psi, the fraternity to which Kaepernick belongs. Celebrities such as Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, Yandi Smith of Love & Hip Hop fame and actress Susan Sarandon were also spotted in the crowd.
Curiously, the NFL removed the American flag from in front of its offices before the rally, in what one participant said was the league’s backhanded way of saying that what was happening was somehow un-American. Another speaker noted that players didn’t even take the field during the national anthem until 2009, when the U.S. Department of Defense gave millions (of our tax dollars) in advertising to the major sports leagues.
Linda Sarsour, a national organizer of the Women’s March on Washington and Justice League NYC, laid out the protesters’ demands, including signing Kaepernick, instituting a policy that protects all players from retribution if they protest, cultural-sensitivity training, and reinvesting resources back into black and brown communities, where almost 70 percent of NFL players come from. They are also about to dig into the NFL’s pockets by targeting one of its biggest advertisers.
“We see this as a much larger fight against corporations and much larger entities that are making money off of communities being oppressed by the state,” Sarsour said. “Today we called on Verizon to join in solidarity with our movement because Verizon is, in fact, one of the largest advertisers in the NFL. They put in an average of $135 annually into the NFL and would play a powerful partner in this movement right now.”
Pastor Jamal Bryant, a Baltimore activist who eulogized Freddie Gray, also spoke, and piggybacked on that demand by asking the crowd to tweet #CanYouHearMeNow in a message to the huge telecom company.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is the first American athlete to wear a hijab in the Olympics, said that she will not be watching football this season if he is not signed.
“Like a lot of African-American families, we spent Sunday and Monday and Thursday nights watching football, but things will definitely change in my household,” said Muhammad. “Anyone who uses their voice and jeopardizes their own financial security for the benefit of all of us is really prolific, and I stand with him and support him.”
Tamika Mallory of the Justice League and Women’s March addressed why the organizations decided to march on the NFL, when it is owners who ultimately decide who is signed to a team. She said that it was futile to spread their resources by protesting against 32 individual teams.
“We challenge systems,” Mallory said. “The NFL is the governing body of the system of football teams across this country, and it is up to them—because at this point, we have not heard the NFL take a stand on behalf of Colin Kaepernick or to be accountable to our communities overall.
“We cannot allow what happened to Colin to stand because it is a microcosm of what is happening in America,” Mallory added. “All the way from Charlottesville to Kaepernick, we see that white supremacy is being upheld in this nation, and we must get in front of it and constantly speak against it wherever we see its ugly head pop up.”