By: David L. Love/The Grio
Is the NFL blackballing Colin Kaepernick because of his strong political stance in support of black people? What does this mean for other athlete-activists that dare to walk in his footsteps? This is one we need to examine closely, because African-American athletes have a long tradition of standing against injustice and the powers that be. The black community knows all too well what they will do to you if you step out of line.
The vocal, controversial and highly political Kaepernick is a free agent and has not been picked up by an NFL team. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback could very well end up on another team. For example,Texans coach Bill O’Brian said they’re considering him. Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh insists Kaepernick will be signed and is not being blackballed, and it is “intellectually lazy” to think otherwise. Still others believe he is a free agent because of his high demands — he wants $9 to 10 million and a chance to start — which makes for a smaller market for Kaepernick.
Will Kaepernick land somewhere? Perhaps. But Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks thinks Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL owners. “I’m sure he is,” Sherman said on ESPN’s First Take Friday. “It’s difficult to see because he’s played at such a high level, and you see guys, quarterbacks, who have never played at a high level being signed by teams. So it’s difficult to understand.
Spike Lee seems to agree. The filmmaker took to Instagram to defend Kaepernick: “How Is It That There Are 32 NFL Teams And Kap Is Still A Free Agent? WTF. Smells MAD Fishy To Me,Stinks To The High Heavens. The New York J-E-T-S Need A Quarterback.”
Say what you will, but Colin Kaepernick is one of those rare individuals who, when faced with the prospect of making millions, decides that the money alone is not enough. In the 2016 season, he angered many patriotic white folks when he decided to take stand by siting down and taking a knee during the national anthem. Because Black Lives Matter, and black folks have had enough as of late. Political protest — whether against police violence, racial oppression and inequality, as Kaepernick has done; or otherwise — is the most potent form of patriotism. And it remains to be seen if the patriotic, All Lives Matter crowd that chants “USA!” and boos black protesters such as Kap will save any of their vitriol for their president, who apparently wants to make Russia great again.
If it is true that Kaepernick is still unemployed because the league is punishing a black man for daring to stand up for black people and causes in a highly politicized way, it would not be the first time. The fish smell that Spike Lee spoke of is decades old. Fifty years old. That’s when Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title, his license, his career and livelihood — and nearly his freedom — when he was drafted by the Army in 1967 and refused to serve in Vietnam because, as he said, “No Vietcong ever called me n*gger.”
The following year, at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, American medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith — along with Australian Peter Norman — participated in the iconic black power salute against racial and economic injustice. The men were suspended, thrown out of Mexico, made outcasts, with their lives ruined. Now that’s what blackballing looks like.
What happens to Kaepernick next is a test for the black community, to see how much the powerful will be allowed to wage warfare on us without a response, and whether other black athletes and celebrities will keep quiet for fear of retaliation. We’ve been here before, and we know the drill, which makes it all the more important that Kap and others receive our support when they stand up for the community.