BROOKLYN, NY (Workers World Today) — When you are a Black person in America, everything’s different. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” This statement made by Colin Kaepernick to the NFL media after taking a knee during the national anthem during the NFL preseason game sparked outrage against the athlete by non-Black fans and NFL officials alike. What began as a single man peacefully and silently speaking his mind became a movement, a new age of activism within professional and unprofessional athletes showing solidarity toward the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM).
The NFL had its own despicable reaction to Kaepernick’s protest by prohibiting him from playing for the remainder of the season, to eventually preventing him from signing with any teams and playing in the NFL ever again. Kapernernick sued and has since settled with the NFL.
The NBA handles political activism much differently than the NFL. Lebron James’ 3-part documentary “Shut Up and Dribble” chronicles the modern history of the NBA and how it allows athletes to grow their brands off the court to become icons. He created the documentary after being told by ignorant journalist Laura Ingham to “Shut up and dribble” after James spoke about politics in an interview. The NFL does not give its athletes the same opportunities to grow their brands or allow them to speak openly on issues that affect them.
Although this ignorance towards peaceful protest is agonizingly annoying, it is not new. All of the great athletic activists faced adverse reactions to them speaking out against the oppression and discrimination America has toward Black Americans. Muhammed Ali began his political activism in opposition to the Vietnam War, and his religious obligations to refuse participation in the draft. The initial reaction was resentment from the public and the similar claim against him that is still being used today against Kaepernick, unpatriotism. In the 60s, white people maintained distaste for Ali, but today, people see him as brave. In the near future, Kaepernick will be seen in the same light, as a hero who stood for what he believed in and withstood the backlash against him.
Although the NFL handles activism in all the wrong ways, it is not stopping the new generation of athletes from participating in the movement. Kaepernick, Lebron James, and many other athletic activists are influencing younger athletes to use their platforms to fight against ignorance, brutality and oppression of the black community. Black voices need to be heard and it is most important to hear from people who can’t be taken down. Talented athletes are in high demand in the NFL and other organizations. They will have no choice but to sign on athletic activists if all the candidates already defined their political stance.
What do you say to people who think there’s no room for politics in sports? That question was posed to Jemele Hill, former co-anchor of ESPN’s Sports-center, in an article by Sophie Brickman for Elle magazine. Her answer:
“People who would prefer that they be separate clearly don’t recognize that sports have always been tied to social issues. Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947, almost 20 years before the Civil Rights Act passed. The moment you go to an NFL game, it is inherently political. You have the national anthem, flyovers, a military presence. Those are all political symbols. Also, every time they put up a new stadium or arena, who do they come to for the money? Taxpayers. So I think that people who don’t want politics in sports are just being, frankly, intellectually lazy. They just don’t want politics they disagree with in their sports. There are so many examples of non-sports issues mixing with sports. ESPN has done some incredible fundraising for cancer. I don’t hear anybody say “stick to sports” when that happens. But when it’s Colin Kaepernick, racism, or police brutality, then they want to stick to sports. That has more to do with the subject than them wanting sports to be absent of heavier issues. “
Many people believe famous athletes are exempt from white oppression; however, all Black people experience police brutality and discrimination, even athletes.
In an interview with former NBA star Etan Thomas, the interviewer, Don Cravins Jr. of National Urban League: For the Movement podcast, explained that he still fears for his life in the presence of police and takes extra precautions not to be out late at night or travel in certain areas out of fear of being targeted by an officer. Thomas himself explained the difficult situation he had to face, teaching his children, as young as six years old, how to speak and act in the presence of authority in order to keep their lives. Black parents are forced to prepare their children for an experience that no other race or ethnicity will ever have in this society. “Every parent believes things will be better for their children…” Don Cravins Jr continues, “… you’re doing your child a disservice if you don’t have that conversation with him.”
Black boys and girls not only need to be prepared for the racism and discrimination in America, there are also gender-specific rules to live by. Boys need to be warned that they must not defy authority even if they believe they are innocent in a situation. We see too many young men killed because they do not agree with the police’s actions. It is also necessary for Black fathers to teach their young daughters about respecting themselves. Self-respect is one of the key psychological factors in preventing young girls from predators like R-Kelly, and there are a lot of R-Kellys in the world. By telling their daughters that they are loved, the girls won’t feel the need to seek that comfort in other men who will likely use their vulnerability to abuse them.
The struggles Black people face in America, as well as any other society, are incomparable. Black voices need to be heard, even if it means adding politics to the things white people and other people of color don’t want politics in, like sports and television. Ignorance and police brutality affects our people everywhere, so we will speak about it everywhere until a change is made.