Sports Illustrated Whitesplains Why It Left Colin Kaepernick Off ‘Sports United’ Cover

Colin Kaepernick (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Imagine being a major sports magazine doing a cover story on the players and team leaders who spoke up and spoke out on the issues of race and inequality, and the right to freedom of personal expression—just to leave out the player who is the reason these discussions are being had in the first place.

Imagine being called out on it, even by some of the people you included on the cover, and whitesplaining it with an excuse for every poor judgment call that went into this insult to the movement.


This is what happened with Sports Illustrated Executive Editor Steve Cannella. In a video posted to the publication’s website, Cannella does his best to justify why Colin Kaepernick was excluded from the so-called Sports United cover, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was featured prominently in the front row.

When asked what the goals were behind the cover, Cannella said that this past weekend was historic for both sports and the country, and the magazine wanted to capture the “enduring message”—which was this sense of unity as the sports world comes together and acknowledges that there are issues that need to be worked out, and athletes “of all races, of all colors, of all sports,” will stand united and figure it out.

So if that’s the case, why leave Kaepernick off the cover?

“In some ways, even though his picture is not there, Colin Kaepernick is there; I think we all know that,” Cannella said. “Colin Kaepernick—for lack of a better word—was looming over everything that happened this past weekend, and looms over many issues in society right now.”


First of all, if his picture is not on the cover, he is not on the cover. Don’t try to double-talk your way out of that shit. You left him off the cover. Own it.

Second, loom? He’s looming?

Oxford Dictionary definition of “loom” via Google screenshot

You are likening his presence, or lack thereof, to some sort of threat? He’s the one we should fear, and not the system that he is responding to?


Cannella stuck his foot deeper in his mouth when he said, “I thought what we were trying to capture with this cover was the way new voices emerged this weekend.”

Oh, really? We want to acknowledge the “new voices” when the original voice has not been heard? We want to rally around these new voices that are being used to shift the narrative and paint the protest as a stand against the silencing of personal expression, while pretending that the purpose of the original protest has been addressed? We see you, Sports Illustrated.


Cannella made the blatant erasure even clearer when he said, “This debate, this issue, this protest movement, has sort of evolved even beyond Colin Kaepernick, and I think we saw a lot of people join the movement, for lack of a better term, this weekend. That’s what we were trying to capture with this cover.”

Once again, it is impossible to see how the debate has evolved beyond Kaepernick when his original grievance has not been addressed. This is how erasure works: Try to make it about something else. Whitewash it. Describe it in a way that makes it more palatable, and more marketable, to your intended audience. We see what is happening here.


“Colin Kaepernick is on that cover,” Cannella said. “Even if his face and his name aren’t there, we all know who stands behind this movement. We all know who got it started. Colin Kaepernick has many more brothers than he did a week ago.”

We don’t believe you, Steve Cannella. You need more people.

When asked about Goodell’s presence on the cover, Cannella said, “I think it’s pretty clear what side of the issue Roger Goodell stood on Friday and over the weekend in response to President Trump’s critics. Whether you think he came out strongly enough or not, I think it’s pretty clear where he and most of the league stands, and that’s why he’s there representing not just him but all of ownership.”


How are we supposed to believe that the league is standing on the right side of the message when Goodell has waffled on everything from Kaepernick to Michael Bennett’s treatment by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department?


How is Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kneeling before the anthem is sung—and staring smugly into the camera for his close-up—helpful to the overall movement? How is placing Goodell on the cover and leaving Kaepernick off entirely a good decision?


The NBA’s Steph Curry had a lot to say about Kaepernick being left off the cover of the magazine. After the Golden State Warriors finished practice on Wednesday, Curry told reporters: “That was terrible. It’s just kind of capitalizing on the hoopla in the media and all of that nonsense. The real people that understand exactly what has been going on and who has really been active and vocal and truly making a difference.”

Curry added: “If you don’t have Kaepernick front and center on that, something is wrong. It’s kind of hard to see how certain narratives take place, being prisoners of the moment. But at the end of the day, that stuff really doesn’t matter. It’s about the true message really highlighting the people that are doing the right things.”


Colin Kaepernick matters. Black lives matter. This is and has always been the original message. Everything else is secondary. It’s admirable that so many players want to stand up now, but Kaepernick has been doing this by himself for over a year now.

As a leader in sports journalism, Sports Illustrated should know better. Leaving Kaepernick off the cover of its “unity” issue is an egregious example of burying the lede.


Do better, Sports Illustrated. Do better.

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About the author

Monique Judge

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.