Back in 2012, in the early morning hours of September 7th, Raynaldo Cuevas was working at a corner bogeda in New York when two masked men entered, pointed guns his way demanding cash from the register. When a passer-by noticed the robbery and called the police, the masked men panicked and in their hesitation, Cuevas took the opportunity to bolt from the store, getting away from the gunmen only to literally run into an armed policeman who shot him as he escaped. Cuevas would be pronounced dead at the hospital.
Two days later, the San Francisco 49ers kicked off their 2012-2013 regular season against the Green Bay Packers, a game they would win. Two months later, second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick would enter a regular season game against the Saint Louis Rams, replacing quaterback Alex Smith, who left the game with an injury. He would not relinquish the role for the duration of the season. Two months after that, Kaepernick would lead the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, Louisiana. The following video is from the pinnacle of Colin Kaepernick’s NFL career at the start of the NFL Championship game.
At about five minutes in, you’ll notice Colin Kaepernick standing somberly as Grammy Award winning artist, Alicia Keys sung the National Anthem. At this point, he would not achieve a higher status as a professional in his career. The entire world was watching.
Can you imagine the impact Colin Kaepernick would have made if he announced during the pre-game of the world’s most watched game, in America’s most popular sport, that he would not play a single down until the man who shot and killed Raynaldo Cuevas faces justice for his murder?
That would have been quite a statement.
Instead, however, in 2016 during the NFL preseason, a game Colin Kaepernick was not starting, he quietly sat while the National Anthem was played. Since then, the social and mainstream media outrage has been nothing short of epic. Kaepernick, who does indeed, has every right to do what he pleases in response to the National Anthem and to suggest otherwise would be the antithesis of what this nation is about. He would later say he sat during the National Anthem as a form of protest of the way this country via law enforcement treats persons of color and the lack of accountability for their actions. That is his excuse, whether you agree or disagree.
To Kaepernick’s credit, since his protest, there has been an increased conversation on police accountability and the way persons of color are treated in America, which effectively only happens when something like a terrible shooting occurs. But many of us are not new to these conversations. We are often vocal about these topics and issues and take action to get more to engage in these conversations so we all can collectively learn and grow as a society. We are also glad to have a contributing voice from a notable pro athlete who feels passionate enough to join the conversation.
But as forthright and active we are in demanding these conversations, there are those who do not want to engage in these conversations. They don’t see them as relevant as we do or they feel the attention given is misdirected or mischaracterized. Or, by virtue of the reaction give to Colin Kaepernick’s protest, they are distracted by perceived grievances of disrespect and disloyalty of the actions of others. When Kaepernick sat during the National Anthem, you know what the country collectively talked about? They talked about him being unpatriotic. They said he disrespected the military(as if they’re the only one’s honored by the National Anthem????). They called him a rich overpaid jock craving attention. I called him a crybaby that threw a tantrum because he got benched. We said all of this and a whole heck of a lot more, very much including your usual avalanche of racially unambigous accusations and taunts.
However, what these same detractors are not talking about is exactly what Colin Kaepernick wanted to call attention to by protest. And sadly, that is the fault of Kaepernick’s alone. He could have made them listen. He could have started a conversation where others would join in, and with him bsing a popularly followed celebrity, many would have wanted to listen, whether they agree or not. But with his form of protest, the group he wants to speak with have tuned him out before he said a single word. Good job.
Am I saying Colin Kaepernick is wrong for protesting? No. Like I said, he has every right and every reason to do so. I am saying the convenience of it certainly causes me to question his sincerity. For six years, Colin Kaepernick has been in the NFL, he’s had an undeniably successful career and has flourished in NFL stardom. He had every right and reason to protest on the biggest stage. More importantly, he had the opportunity. But through a Super Bowl and three NFC Championship games, with the attention of the world on his every word, he stayed silent. However, only after being benched last season, losing the starting job this season, during a preseason game, he explains his sitting through the National Anthem as a protest of oppression against persons of color. It seems like if he really wanted to call attention to the way minorities are treated by law enforcement, he certainly went about it the way to do the exact opposite and call attention to himself instead.
Back in 2011, Colin Kaepernick’s rookie year, the NFL owners and the Players Association could not agree on new collective bargaining agreement causing the players to decertify their union in protest. When the NFL players went on strike in 1987 and 1982, they were willing and did forfeit compensation for the year, along with playing football. When Muhammad Ali refused to step forward and be drafted to fight in Vietnam, his title was stripped from him and he lost three prime years of his career. When a swarm of Black Lives Matter protesters walk in the middle of oncoming traffic, causing it to jam for hours, YOU have to know that people protesting black men being shot has disrupted your day. When you protest, there are consequences to that protest. Colin Kaepernick sitting during the National Anthem did not cause him consequences he wasn’t on his way of losing already. Protest involves sacrifice. That is precisely what gives it power. And that power inspires change. Protest without sacrifice, by definition cannot have the impact. And this is what I feel Colin Kaepernick failed to understand.
And to be honest, without the sacrifice, protest has no staying power. Will anyone remember that Colin Kaepernik once took a knee or sat during the pregame of a game he wasn’t playing? Afterall, he’s not nearly the football player to protest police actions against minorities. He’s not even the first pro athlete to sit during the National Anthem. Back in the 1990s, Chris Jackson, who was seen as a Stephen Curry before there was a Stephen Curry, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf(just after the World Trade Center was bombed, by the way). In March of 1996, he sat during the playing the National Anthem. Abdul-Rauf was then suspended and within months traded. And a couple of seasons later he was out of the NBA. His skills didn’t slip. He just posted career highs in points, assist, steals and three-point percentage. But he was in the prime of his career, at the height of his career and did what Kaepernick did. And lost his career for it. That’s sacrifice.
The unfortunate reality is that most of America will forget how Colin Kaepernick protested, much like they’ve already ignored why is protesting. Again, we’ve seen conversations on respecting the military and pregame rituals and exercising First Amendment rights and whether or not the Star Spangled Banner is a racist song. You know what we’re not discussing? Raynaldo Cuevas. Or John Crawford or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice or the other roughly 2,000 persons of color shot by police since Colin Kaepernick has been in the NFL. And if that is the conversation Kaepernick wants to have, then he has the responsibility of getting people to listen. If your spouse cheated on you and you look at her and say “&% $@#, why in the hell you do that?”, would the very next topic addressed be the marriage infidelity or the expletive just used?
Yes, Colin Kaepernick, like all Americans have the right to protest guaranteed by the first Amendment. But those rights are only effective when used responsibly. And quite frankly, this is something forgotten not just by him with his form of protest, but forgotten by most Americans protesting him in turn.