Take A Knee

Recently, one news story has been dominating the athletic world: Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem. Many white people have very vocal opinions on the matter, which in way just proves Kaepernick’s point about white privilege. But whether or not these individuals realize it (I am assuming the latter), they’ve actually been perpetuating discussion of the cause of Kaepernick’s protest: police brutality, specifically against people of color.

Kaepernick is making waves, and people are totally split. Some respect Kaepernick’s decision. I use the word “respect” because not everyone agrees with it. Despite not agreeing with his actions, many people still believe that he has every right to not take part in saluting the flag. They respect the act as a form of his free speech and his right to protest. Others, however, do not respect his choice, and have responded by calling him names and racial slurs, burning his jersey, and saying he is disrespecting the armed forces and all the men and women who served and died for our country. Before I go on, let's begin with some background.

A Timeline of Events

1968: During the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the gold and silver medal-winning runners, raise their fists during the national anthem.

1987: Kaepernick is born to a white mother and a Black father. His father was not present in his life, and his biological mother put him up for adoption. Kaepernick was adopted by a white family. Kaepernick, being a bi-racial and adopted child, faced a lot of adversity. His family was always supportive, but others were always ready to judge him, question him, and invalidate his family. So despite Kaepernick’s “celebrity” status, the guy has arguably faced the issues that come with being a person of color.

1996: A Denver Nuggets player sits during the national anthem.

2011: Colin Kaepernick gets drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.

2012: Kaepernick becomes the starting quarterback when the previous quarterback, Alex Smith, is injured. Kaepernick then becomes the primary QB. He sets an NFL record during his first year in the playoffs, and leads the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1994. Kaepernick becomes a favorite, and makes a real name for himself in the NFL.

2014: Dion Waiters of the Cleveland Cavaliers refuses to come on the court during the anthem. Though he faced backlash just like Kaepernick eventually would, protests by athletes of color aren’t anything new at this point in time. Many athletes have a history of being unabashedly Black. Look at Jackie Robinson, or Muhammad Ali. Look at Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, and other Black women athletes. Every time those athletes step into a stadium or onto a court, they are faced with scrutiny. Every time a non-white athlete plays, they are standing up for something.

August 14, 2016: Kaepernick begins his protest, but no one takes notice yet.

August 26, 2016: Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem. One reporter spots Kaepernick and tweets about it. During a press conference after the game, Kaepernick is asked why he was taking a knee. His answer was that he could not stand for “a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

August 27 - September 24, 2016: There have been at least five different occasions of athletes sitting during the anthem. One of those athletes was Megan Rapinoe, the USA Women’s Soccer team star, who came out as lesbian right before the London Olympics. She recently sat during the anthem while Team USA played the Netherlands, saying that it’s more important for her to participate while representing her country. The Seattle Seahawks stood with linked arms during the anthem, while two players from the New England Patriots and two players from the Los Angeles Rams stood with their fists raised during the anthem. In addition, Missouri State Senator Jamila Nasheed sat during the Pledge of Allegiance. What’s not mentioned is the various number of student athletes on the collegiate and high school level who have been inspired by Kaepernick and have taken a knee during their games.

Though many are inspired by Kaepernick, a good deal of the population sees him as anti-cop, anti-American, anti-military, and every other “anti” that follows that trend. A lot of people don’t see it as Kaepernick’s place (look at comments made by Trent Dilfer, an ESPN analyst). A lot of people think, “You’re just an athlete, you know nothing.” People think Kaepernick, as someone who makes tens of millions of dollars, has no right to insert himself in this discourse because he is so far removed from the real world that he has no authority on the issue.

As a woman of color and as a former athlete, I have some serious opinions on this. First, let me be clear, I completely support Kaepernick and I completely support his choice. If I still played, I hope that I would have the courage to join him and other athletes in their solidarity. I wholeheartedly believe in this cause. The Guardian has a page on which they track the number of individuals killed by the police in the United States. According to them, since Kaepernick has taken a knee, 113 people have been killed by the police—69 of whom were people of color. That’s in the span of only one month. And this is just one website’s tracking—think of all the others who face brutality and may have gone under the radar. Kaepernick is bringing attention to this issue.

To those who say he’s disrespecting the military who have fought for this flag, Kaepernick has said that is not his intention. In fact, many military personnel have come out saying that even if they don’t agree with his actions, the ideals that they are fighting for are the very ideals that Kaepernick is expressing. Soldiers have tweeted their support saying that they fought for his right to his opinion and his right to protest. If the military fought for you to voice your opinion about Kaepernick—well, that is the same right that Kaepernick has to voice his own opinions.

For those who say that it’s anti-American, I say that when our national anthem was written, people of color were still not considered humans. Take a look at the whole song, not just the one verse we use. Look at the line, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” Look up the history of that song. I think you will find that there are undertones of racism. The song doesn’t even capture what today’s military is fighting for, what today’s America looks like. The full “Star Spangled Banner” doesn’t represent America today.

To all those who say he has no right, as a super rich athlete, to comment on the social climate of the country he exists in: honestly, what? Consumers of entertainment are so quick to get angry at celebrities. On one hand they are quick to say, “You’re a role model, people look up to you, children look up to you,” when famous people make mistakes. So how, in the next breath, can people get angry at celebrities for taking a stance on issues? Is it because they are being role models only for people of color? Is that so offensive? These people were not always making millions. Kaepernick lived in a world where he was an outsider until he started playing professional football and made a name for himself. The people who say he has no right to talk about Black Lives Matter and other social and civil rights movements seem to have forgotten the twenty-four years he existed as a man of color before he was drafted into the NFL.

And then there’s Tomi Lahren, who is seemingly the spokesperson for those against Kaepernick with her “mouth diarrhea.” Where does one even begin?

First, Tomi, your statements are dismissive of the real numbers that are supporting Kaepernick, numbers that I have listed and found very easily. People being left for dead on the streets while their murderers get off with barely any punishment, is not just according to Kaepernick.

Second, if Kaepernick is a whiny crybaby, pray tell, what are you? Is your posting a video not attention-seeking? Perhaps some self-reflection is in order.

Third, who are you to ask what kind of role model he is to kids of color? Have you had the experience of growing up with skin that is naturally dark? I would like to know what gave you the authority to say that “their biggest contribution to justice and self fulfillment is to parade around with a chip on their shoulder like a victim,” as if they aren’t really victims. As if the killing of Black people is just a myth.

Lastly, please turn on the news or read an article and you’ll see what’s changed in the past six years. Read a history book and you’ll see black oppression. People of color are fed up that when someone is shot and killed by police for a traffic violation, odds are it’s someone who looks like them, someone who looks like a relative or a friend. Not someone who looks like you. Oppression is very real, my dude. Having a Black president for eight years doesn’t suddenly make up for all of that. The issues people of color face have persisted from the time the British colonized this country. Seriously, have a discussion with a history teacher. I urge you to “step back and take some responsi-damn-bility,” as you would say, for the actions you and your ancestors have taken to perpetuate white supremacy and the oppression of people of color.

Tomi, your rant against Kaepernick was three and a half minutes of my life I will never get back. Three and a half minutes of listening to you ignore the facts, disregard real experiences, and trash someone while somehow acting like the victim and the savior within the same breath.

Look, you as an American have the right to disagree with Kaepernick, but you don’t have the right to stop him. He hasn’t hurt anyone—in fact, he’s been an advocate throughout his career. He is donating one million dollars to organizations that help communities affected by racial injustice and police brutality. Each day that Kaepernick takes a knee, he inspires others to do the same. Each day that we talk about what he is doing, each time we track what’s happening, he is successful. He is getting us to talk about this issue and question institutions. He is representing the hundreds of individuals who have been killed. Most importantly, he is making a statement for people of color across the country.

For those who believe that Kaepernick doesn’t care and that this all BS, well, I’ll use his words to counter it: “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."