New Orleans Colin Kaepernick may never start another football came in his career. He pushed out a 49ers quarterback who has gone on to success as a starter in Kansas City, but after getting the 49ers to the Super Bowl and failing to win, he’s been in decline, despite his exciting promise. But, that’s sports. In real life, Kaepernick has started something that continues to grow and speak not only to his fellow players on his team and other sports teams, both amateur and professional, and that is the need to protest injustice. Given that his protest is about the continued racism in American society that manifests itself not only in discrimination but in crime and violence, his actions are timely. This protest isn’t declining, but spreading.
Kaepernick, when he was playing, was a wild, unpredictable, boundary breaker. He was an exciting runner and passer and in his moment it seemed like no one would ever be able to stop him. But now in this protest in the time of Black Lives Matter, he has been dignified and straightforward. He even added generosity to the mix. The public has responded to his protest by making his football jersey the number one selling shirt in the National Football League, and he has pledged to donate his share to charity in addition to another one million he has pledged to community groups engaged in issues at the heart of his concerns. As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, he also has reached out to teammates and opponents who disagree with him, listened, and explained his position, and earned their respect if not their agreement. The New York Times noted that high school teams around the country are picking up the protest. The Women’s NBA has also stepped into action in their own way.
This is all a good thing. Athletes have opinions. They play on teams, but they are – and should be – individuals. They should be able to express themselves, and do so to the biggest audience possible. That’s just good tactics. Sports has already been hurt too often by being politicized, which makes the opposition to these protests harder to understand. The embrace of militarism and a sort of kneejerk conservativism has pigeonholed too much of sports into a cookie cutter conformity that is not the best of America. But I understand there are many who want there to be a bubble where they can pretend the real world doesn’t exist or, more accurately, that their world must dominate, but it’s definitely not professional sports.
Mostly because no matter what the superrich owners pretend, almost all of these stadiums are publicly financed and public properties. John Angelos, the chief operating officer of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team in defending the playing of Woody Guthrie’s anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” in addition to “God Bless America” at their games, hit the nail on the head saying,
“People forget a lot of these stadiums are publicly funded buildings and by law, they have to welcome people from all different walks of life. Sometimes sports can be narrowcast in the causes and groups focused on. Our idea is that everyone should be included; let’s not leave anyone out.”
Angelos is right. Not only is that something we need to remember about sports and public buildings, but something we need to keep in mind about every aspect of American life.