Why Colin Kaepernick sat down - Macleans.ca

Why Colin Kaepernick sat down

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick believes his country attaches a low cost to Black lives. He’s right, says Andray Domise.

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to playing the Baltimore Ravens in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, CA – OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to playing the Baltimore Ravens in their NFL game at Levi’s Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Colin Kaepernick, backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, touched off a firestorm last Friday in a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. As the teams stood on the field, and the rest of the stadium rose for the national anthem, Kaepernick remained seated in protest. When asked about it after the game, he told the NFL Network: “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 added: “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.”

It’s fitting that Kaepernick protested in Wisconsin, on the heels of demonstrations against the police killing of Sylville Smith in Milwaukee. Kaepernick himself was born in Wisconsin, and spent his early childhood in the suburb of Fond du Lac, about halfway between Green Bay and Milwaukee. Almost every relevant economic indicator ranks Wisconsin as one of the worst American states for Black people, including high incarceration rates, low family income, low net worth, and an outrageous achievement gap between Black and white students. Kaepernick’s hometown is only a short drive away from the Milwaukee neighbourhood of Bronzeville, a once-burgeoning Black neighbourhood whose homes were demolished by the Wisconsin government in the 1960s to make room for an interstate freeway. Wisconsin’s Black residents have, for decades, remained bounded by the purposeful segregations of urban design, economic immobility, and prison walls.

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After Kaepernick made his comments, his social media accounts were deluged with racial slurs, wishes for season-ending injuries, and even videos of former fans burning his jersey. A common criticism (outside of exhortations that he go “back to Africa” to play football there) was that Kaepernick showed insufficient gratitude and respect for the flag, and the country that gave him the opportunity for a multi-million-dollar NFL contract. Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, told ESPN: “Like, it’s an oxymoron that you’re sitting down, disrespecting that flag that has given you the freedom to speak out.” This was echoed by Jerry Rice, perhaps the greatest player to ever put on a 49ers jersey, when he tweeted, “All lives matter. So much going on in this world today. Can we all just get along! Colin, I respect your stance but don’t disrespect the Flag.”

Others, such as NBC analyst and former New England Patriot Rodney Harrison, alluded to the fact that, since Kaepernick was raised by white adoptive parents, he has no claim on personal oppression. Even Kaepernick’s biological mother, Heidi Russo, tweeted: “There’s ways to make change w/o disrespecting & bringing shame to the very country & family who afforded you so many blessings.”

Colin Kaepernick is the biological child of a white mother and Black father. Perhaps his racially ambiguous features helped reduce the social friction that comes packaged with Blackness. Perhaps his multi-million-dollar contract with the 49ers has provided a heat shield against racism. But Kaepernick identifies as a Black man in America, whose highest laws were originally drafted to the exclusion of Black people, and whose wealth was cultivated by a slave economy powered by kidnapped Black bodies. White Americans may have the convenience of honouring the flag without a true accounting of the atrocities committed under its aegis, but this is not so for Black America. In the eyes of Kaepernick’s critics, though, elite athletes exist in an imaginary plane outside of this reality and have no business bringing personal politics into the game.

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Ignore, for a moment, that American athletes are regularly lauded for open displays of patriotism. Also put aside the fact that professional and college teams have raked in millions of dollars from the Pentagon for military tributes. Consider that Kaepernick plays in the NFL, a league whose troubled racial history has led to Black men comprising 68 per cent of players, 16 per cent of the head coaches, and none of the owners. Where an East Coast team is still named for a slur against Native Americans, and where Richie Incognito can racially abuse a Black teammate into leaving the Miami Dolphins, yet land a lucrative contract and earn a Pro Bowl selection a short time later. The NFL is where Kaepernick’s current coach, Chip Kelly, once came under fire for shutting out Black coaching staff during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, and where the Eagles turned the other cheek in 2013 after wide receiver Riley Cooper threatened to “fight every nigger in here” at a Kenny Chesney concert.

The daily reminders that being born on American soil does not grant full protection of the American flag—this steady and pernicious accretion of proof—is yet another obstacle for Black athletes that neither their white peers nor white sports fans will ever know first-hand. When Black athletes do speak up, they know they will be hurt personally and professionally. This year, the WNBA assessed a $500 fine against players on the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury teams for wearing shirts referencing Black Lives Matter. That fine was only rescinded after a widespread backlash. And Minneapolis police officers walked off the job when Minnesota Lynx players wore the shirts to their pregame warm-up. The WNBA fine was rescinded after a widespread backlash, but the Minneapolis police union has maintained that officers will refuse to work the games if players continue to wear the shirts.

Former Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf fared much worse when he refused to stand for the national anthem 20 years ago. Seeing the American flag as a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny,” Abdul-Rauf weathered a league suspension, and ire from Denver sports media and Nuggets fans. His promising NBA career withered soon afterwards. This is to say nothing of the beloved and recently deceased Muhammad Ali, whose staunch anti-racism stance and refusal to fight in Vietnam nearly cost him everything. In his time, Ali was also called ungrateful, un-American, and far worse by critics who expected him to carry a gun in Vietnam, but would never themselves carry a protest sign alongside Black Americans.

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Under the press of white supremacy in America, which applauds the virtue of nonviolent protest until it is exercised by Black people, Black athletes carry a social weight they neither want, nor asked for. How they reconcile that experience, their own beliefs, and America’s expectations toward them as role models is entirely up to them. Kaepernick obviously believes he owes something to the Black community, and finds his obligations incompatible with an American culture that places a low value on Black lives, and on holding police accountable. He earned his right to that belief through his life experience, and acquired his right to expression by birth, despite what his mother and so many others may think. Kaepernick wasn’t “given opportunities” by anyone. He worked and trained hard enough to be drafted by two teams in two different sports—the Chicago Cubs, and later the San Francisco 49ers. That work is all he owes his team, and all he owes an America that has yet to repay its own blood debt to Black Americans.

To those upset with a perceived lack of gratitude on his part, Colin Kaepernick owes nothing. And they should be ashamed for asking.

Andray Domise is a Toronto writer, activist and co-founder of txdl.ca, a mentorship and development program.


Why Colin Kaepernick sat down

  1. Bravo

  2. who cares. Effing yanks bleed red white and blue.

  3. This is race baiting crap, which appears to be the only thing that Andray feels compelled to write about. If America is rife with institutional racism, show me a racist law and I will protest against it. But in absence of that, please don’t cite manipulated statistics to push an ignorant, dishonest, race baiting agenda.

  4. If America is so terrible, why doesn’t he take the ultimate step and leave the country? I’m sure it would be better to live in a black-majority country in Africa than under the white-supremacist system of the USA……right? Funny how none of these black activists who hate their country so much ever seem to want to do that. In fact, black people from all over the world flock to the US (as well as immigrants of every other race or ethnicity), despite it being such an oppressive hellhole. Weird how that works.

    In Colin’s case, I’m sure that he has been gassed up by the leftist media (which has been pushing hard for a race war for the last couple of years) as well as this fiancee of his who is a BLM activist, and he now feels guilty for never being the victim of oppression in his life. Combined with the fact that he lost his starter job, he now can pull this stunt and when he rides the bench all season he can say it was because of racism. I think in his case, the issue is like so many others in the black community: their black father abandoned them (this is extremely common), they grow up with feelings of resentment and they end up channeling that against white people, as if it’s their fault that their father wanted nothing to do with them.

    • Here’s a question for you, John.

      If people in America have a problem with Colin Kaepernick exercising his right to free speech, why don’t they take the ultimate step and move to North Korea?

      • That’s a really poor analogy. Has anyone who has taken issue with Kaepernick’s actions pointed at it as a reason as to why the country is terrible? Or have they just criticized the man himself? I’m sure it sounded good in your head though.

        Colin is entitled to his freedom of speech, as is any other American who either agrees or disagrees with him. When you leftists try to get someone fired for saying they don’t agree with gay marriage on their Facebook or something like that, you always tell us that “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences”. Nobody is calling for Kaepernick to get arrested. The consequences he’s facing from this are attention and criticism – although I think that was the whole point of this “protest” in the first place anyway.

        • Just a minute ago, you were suggesting he leave the country. But now that we’re clear you’re good with his silent protest…why is this a problem? I thought Black people were well advised to keep their protesting noviolent?

          • Who said it’s a problem? I never said I wanted him to leave or that he shouldn’t have the right to free speech. I commented on the situation and made an observation. BLM groupies and race-baiting leftists like yourself are always droning on about how terribly oppressive America is and how violently racist white people are. Yet there are many black majority countries around the world, in Africa and in the Caribbean, and rather than see an exodus of black people fleeing the terrors of life in North America to a safe haven in those countries, it’s the other way around. Black people flock to Canada and the USA. Isn’t that weird, when black people are supposedly so oppressed here by the privileged and bigoted white majority?

            Again I have no problem with his protest, but I’m free to comment on it as I see fit. Do you have a problem with that? I agree, black people are well advised to keep their protesting non-violent. It’s terrible when something happens like Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago when a bunch of black people burned down their neighbourhood over a thug getting killed in a shootout with police. Are you gonna write any articles about that, by any chance?

      • Kaepernick is saying what a horrible, racist place America is. When people suggest that he should go live in some other country, it is not because they disagree with his ability to exercise free speech, it so that he can see how great America actually is in contrast to these other countries in regards to freedom of opportunity and equality. You seem to be conflating two completely different issues here. This is about the content of his message, not about his right to publicly make his message.

    • If America is so terrible, why doesn’t he take the ultimate step and leave the country?

      Probably because, despite all that’s wrong with the US, he sees the promise of what it could be and is trying to help his country get there.

      I see lots wrong with Canada; things I’d like changed.I don’t run away to another country; I stay here and do what I can to make it better. Because despite its flaws, I still love the place and recognize that it’s great. It’s just that it can be so much better. I’m sure he feels much the same way about his country. Nationality isn’t skin colour; he’s no more African than you are.

      I’m of two minds as to whether or not I agree with his approach – but I certainly admire his conviction and willingness to step up and put himself on the line for others. He could just as easily have remained silent and enjoyed the rewards his athleticism has brought him; instead, he took a big personal risk. That takes guts.

      So… enough with the “leave the country” nonsense. Make arguments about why he’s wrong, if you think he is. But recognize that he’s already home and is just trying to do a little home improvement.

  5. Still waiting for an NHL player to sit for Oh Canada to protest this nations treatment of the

    • Perhaps they should start by sitting down to protest the way the leadership of the bands treats all it’s members first. We, the taxpayers, can continually throw money to fix things like water treatment, but at some point those communities must take responsibility for maintaining those facilities. We, the taxpayers, do not owe you a living, people must be responsible for themselves.

  6. So, in a country that literally hundreds of thousands of people of color risk life and limb to emigrate to; where hundreds of thousands of young people of color will gain publicly funded college and university admission this year despite having lower grades than non-minority students; in a country where blacks are substantially over-represented in civic government and police forces; in a country where black lawmakers form race-exclusive caucuses and openly craft policy and enact legislation strictly on racial grounds; in a country where some 50% and more of all social welfare payments are directed towards black families who represent a mere 13% of the general population; Colin Kaepernick is concerend about “white privilege”?
    The guy’s an idiot.

    • Actually, I think he is brilliant. By many accounts, he lost his starter position and was on the verge of being cut. Now if he does end up getting cut, he will say that it’s because the 49ers are racist, and people like Andray here will beat that drum for him without a second thought. He has effectively insulated his crappy on-field performance from criticism and consequence. Pretty clever if you ask me.

      • Well, shoot. You could very well be right. He’s still an idiot though. He may be a marketing genius, but he’s an idiot nonetheless.