While Jacob Blake’s shooter, Breonna Taylor’s assassin, and many of the Trump insurrectionists — who laid siege to the United States Capitol — all get to roam the streets freely; Colin Kaepernick, however, has been on the street — unemployed for the last three years.
1, 415 days and counting …
That is exactly how long it has been since Kaepernick was last on an NFL roster.
In 2017, the former Superbowl starting quarterback was banished by the NFL for an act of peaceful discourse: taking a non-violent knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem to raise awareness towards police brutality and racial injustice.
During this period, we have also seen sports analysts–like former ESPN talk show host Jemele Hill–be reprimanded by their employer for vocalizing advocacy of social justice in sports.
“No politics in sports.”
That was the unequivocal stance enforced by many sports companies while ‘Colin Kaepernick kneeling’ headlines galvanized the nation.
A headline that even caught the attention of the President of the United States, Donald J Trump.
“Get that son of a b*tch off the field, right now!” — his response.
Players kneeling during the anthem quickly became a hot button issue in America.
But then that all suddenly changed in 2020.
On Memorial Day of that year, an 8 minute and 46-second phone recording, from Minneapolis, was revealed to the public.
The world watched on as a 46-year-old Black man laid handcuffed, face down on the cement, hysterical and desperate — screaming for his late mom and the mercy of his life — as a white police officer kept a knee on his neck, slowly and publicly, lynching him in broad daylight.
And now 8 months later since that fateful day — those traumatizing screams — by the late George Floyd can still be heard today — as they rest heavily on the hearts and minds of Black households across this nation.
His death immediately came to some as a shock — igniting people nationwide to finally start accepting the hard truths of anti-Blackness and police brutality in America.
For the Black community, however, Floyd’s death was only a snapshot of the experience facing many Black men and women across the country.
His story adds to the inter-generational trauma for Black families, but it does not create it.
Floyd’s encounter that day with police was not some outlier or one-off, it has been an experience—shared, but never remedied, in America.
Over time, American police titles have changed—descended from sheriff to overseer to paddy roller to slave patrolmen — but as the badges have changed, America’s longstanding policing problem has always continued.
“To be Black and relatively conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” — James Baldwin
Black parents already know too well of the dangers that exist for their sons and daughters whenever they leave the safety of their own home.
And for some, like Breonna Taylor, the safety of their home is still not good enough. Her story proves that you can literally be at home — asleep, and yet, still lose your life to police brutality.
And that is why mothers and fathers of Black children are forced to carry the incredible burden that requires them to infinitely stay informed and cognizant of the America that they live in.
It is also why Black parents are forced to sit down with their young children and teach them about systemic racism and what it exactly means to be Black in America.
It is known in many Black households as — “the talk.”
An uncomfortable conversation about the very real dangers presented to Black men and women in a country that is still very much recovering from its racist pasts — one that is dominated by slave owners and segregationists who once governed the land.
“It’s a conversation that kills me inside — one that I never been more nervous to have — and look — I’ve given public speeches before to crowds of the thousands, but this speech, this conversation in my 12-year-old son’s bedroom was by far the hardest one that I ever had to give. But at the same time, I knew I needed to be strong and have it. I don’t ever want there to be a day when I log onto Twitter or Facebook and see that my son has become the next trending hashtag.” — Jennifer Simone, Westchester resident, and mother of three Black boys.
Jennifer and many Black parents use the conversation as a time to tool their children with a laundry list of ways to act if they are ever stopped by the police — from not putting their hands in their pockets to obliging with whatever the officer asks, and most importantly, always remembering to remain calm.
It is simply a conversation that a white family never needs to have — out of fear or out of safety — for their child.
As white insurrectionists ransacked the US Capitol with little to no resistance by police — a far cry away from the heavily armed national guard that once forcefully safeguarded the Capitol during the Black Lives Matter protests — we were once again reminded why this conversation must happen.
Black Americans are simply disproportionately targeted by the police.
Take a look at the events of this past year — a year in which we saw a global pandemic make the whole world stop, but yet, racism was the one thing that persisted.
The stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake — and so many others, prove for Black families — no matter what you do, no matter how much money you have, no matter what job or degree you attain — you can be an EMT or a Harvard graduate — there will be someone out there that will hate you only because of your complexion.
And that is why it has been so egregious for the NFL to ever ask for Kaepernick’s silence.
Kaepernick was the one who was trying to preemptively give stories — ones similar to what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — a public platform. In hopes of raising enough awareness to prevent their deaths from ever even happening.
Today, 16.5 million Americans — on average — watch football. And the ‘Sunday Night Football’ broadcast currently reigns as the single most-watched Television show in the country.
A powerful platform to surrender.
For Kaepernick, opting to use that very platform and take a knee — to promote social justice awareness, in turn, enables him to reach the living rooms of millions of Black and Brown households throughout America.
A reach that can inspire this country’s next generation of great activists and social justice leaders.
A study launched in 2017, “The Black Voter Project,” concluded that Kaepernick’s kneeling and activism had inspired thousands of Black Americans to get involved in community politics and social justice initiatives. Many of the respondents from the study concluded that it was Kaepernick’s underlying message that had pushed them to go to the polls and vote in local, state, and national elections — many of them for the first time.
But today, Kaepernick is no longer afforded a national stage to deliver that message.
Well for starters, some argue that seeing him take a knee during the playing of the national anthem makes them feel “uncomfortable.”
For them, their patriotism to America — devotion to the men and women who served in the military to protect it — fuels them to reject anybody who dares to criticize the land they so dearly love.
But how do we define “patriotism?”
Does protesting an injustice that is happening in our country make you “unpatriotic?”
I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her …” — James Baldwin.
And where was the “patriotism” when those very Kaepernick critics proceeded to invade and loot one of the most prized gems of American architecture — the United States Capitol?
Kaepernick, has also, been widely criticized for “disrespecting the flag.”
But yet, it was those same critics who lowered and disposed of an American flag — in favor of a politician.
And in one of America’s most sacred chambers of democracy — a confederate flag flew over the picture frames — overshadowing the very founding fathers who died to keep such a hateful flag from ever breaching the people’s house.
And yet, they ferociously argued that Kaepernick was the one who — “wasn’t going about his protest the right way.”
It seems that our country’s definition of the word “patriotism,” changes depending on who exactly we are addressing.
And that is why, for some Americans, taking a knee during the pregame ceremonies of a football game — to peacefully protest racial injustice — makes them feel more uncomfortable than committing treason and murder in the halls of our nation’s capital.
“They attack the victim, and then the criminal who attacked the victim accuses the victim of attacking him. This is American justice. This is American democracy …” — Malcolm X.
In the ‘Land of the Free,’ we are reminded — not everybody who inhabits this land is actually free — from acts of hate.
But as we celebrate Martin Luther King Day —and look back on his great fight for freedom — we find solace in the words that come directly after — ‘the Home of the Brave.’
And in that bravery, shown through the courageous fight of Kaepernick and so many others who are willing to put their careers and livelihoods on the line — to take a stand for social justice and a better tomorrow — we are offered an encouraging reminder: there is still hope left for this country — when we come together and rally, not out of hate—but out of love.
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.