Filed Under:  OpEd

Kaepernick is a modern-day Spartacus

28th August 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

It’s been more than a year since NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stand for equal justice and against unconstitutional policing by taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem at the start of football games. A year later, he is still being made to pay the price for daring to speak out against racial injustice, discrimination and bigotry.

But the backlash against the outspoken QB has grown from sharp criticism and blame for the league’s slipping television viewership into him being blackballed and made an example of by NFL teams.

In a league where solid, competitive quarterbacks are hard to come by, Kaepernick is being told that none of the NFL franchises could benefit from his athletic services.

One might argue that such is the price a professional athlete pays for being compensated with millions of dollars annually for playing a team sport by team owners who clearly represent the ruling 1 percent.

NFL owners, executives and others might argue that athletes aren’t paid to think or to voice their personal opinions about the social and political issues of the day. But are they being handsomely compensated to shut up and play ball, a notion that inspired the concept of a $60 million slave?

The upside of being a $60 million slave is that you get to buy lavish homes, ritzy cars and spend money like there is no tomorrow. But the downside is you don’t get to speak your mind if you were fortunate enough to have received the kind of education that equipped you with critical-thinking skills and everything you do is critiqued, from touchdown celebrations to the clothes you wear and the hairstyles you rock.

Despite the backlash and criticism of Kaepernick over the past year, The Associated Press reported recently that dozens of current and former NYPD officers, many of them minority officers, took to the streets on Aug. 19 to show their support for the quarterback who became a free agent in March and has been looking for a job in the NFL ever since.

A week earlier, protesters gathered in Los Angeles outside the pre-season football game between the Rams and the Dallas Cowboys.

Filmmaker Spike Lee is also organizing a protest on the quarterback’s behalf.

Kaepernick supporters are proposing a boycott of the NFL to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with league owners’ treatment of Kaepernick.

Other players who joined Kaepernick in protest are still employed. Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins pledged to continue his protests this season, tight end Martellus Bennett signed a free agent contract with the Green Bay Packers and linebacker Brandon Marshall stayed with the Denver Broncos even as he lost two endorsements for kneeling during the anthem.

Fans’ criticism of league owners’ handling of the Kaepernick situation continues to grow with each slight the quarterback receives from teams willing to hire less-talented and less-proficient quarterbacks to drive the point home about who is in charge and what happens when a Black star athlete decides to bite the hand that is feeding him millions in his salary and endorsement deals.

Many saw the Miami Dolphins’ signing of retired Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler as the ultimate insult, a thinly veiled slap in Kaepernick’s face.

“Either some owners and/or the NFL are punishing him for speaking out, or they’ve decided that it’s best for business to sweep these valid issues under the rug in order not to upset fans who, in our opinion, don’t have a valid reason to be upset about Colin Kaepernick being on their team,” Tim Clark, who is organizing boycotts of all 32 teams for the NFL’s regular season opener, told The Associated Press.

The Associated Press reported that Color of Change, an online civil rights organization, flooded Baltimore Ravens headquarters with telephone calls when the team didn’t quickly sign Kaepernick as it openly considered options to react to an injury. The Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network, which demonstrated over the weekend, says it will boycott the Rams and Chargers games at Memorial Coliseum. A petition calling for a season-long boycott of the NFL has collected more than 170,000 signatures.

“We understand the NFL is very important to you. We also understand the purpose of Colin Kaepernick’s protest is FAR more important than any games you will ever watch,” the petition said.

“Kaepernick doesn’t have a job because he spoke out about race,” Elie Mystal, an editor at the “Above the Law” legal commentary website, recently told The Associated Press. “That’s the thing you’re not allowed to do in our sporting culture and most of our popular culture, unless you’re so over-the-top talented that they need you for winning.”

The resistance on the gridiron continues despite the NFL’s efforts to quell the uprising. During a pre-season game between the Oakland Raiders and Rams, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat during the singing of the national anthem while Rams defensive end Robert Quin lifted his clenched fist in the air, bringing to mind former U.S. Olympians who took a similar stand at the Summer Olympics in Mexico in 1968.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett sat during the national anthem for the first two pre-season games and was joined by two of his teammates who stood alongside him.

He later explained how the death of a woman at the Charlottesville, Va. protest strengthened his resolve to take a stand.

“First of all, I want people to understand I love the military,” Bennett said. “My father was in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American, but I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander.”

Kaepernick has been compared to a number of legendary Black athletes, among them boxing great Muhammad Ali, MLB pioneer Jackie Robinson and former NFL great Jim Brown, who has never minced his words regarding professional sports leagues’ mistreatment and exploitation of Black athletes.

But there may also be cause to compare him to the legendary Roman slave-turned-gladiator Spartacus, who nearly brought down the Roman Empire.

Although Kaepernick has proven that he needs to further develop his critical-thinking skills and become more prudent when determining what to share with mainstream media, he has inspired a generation of young college and high school athletes, letting them know that there is nothing wrong with taking a stand for what they believe in and that some things are more important than sports, wealth and popularity.

I’m looking forward to seeing more signs of growth from Young Master Kaepernick, whose thirst for knowledge and courage in the face of the wealthy and powerful 1 percent is both inspiring and revolutionary in its own right.

Do I support a boycott of the NFL?

Absolutely. As much as I love football, there is nothing more critical than removing the roadblocks that continue to undermine Black people in America and render us 21st-century slaves.

If we’re going to do it, we need to be all-in. That means not only bypassing game tickets, TV game packages, team merchandise and NFL-sponsored events, but also taking aim at companies that advertise heavily on the television and radio during NFL games.

Let’s go a little further and get used to calling it a “man-cott.” The NFL needs to know that the Black men and women who call America home will no longer tolerate being treated like little girls and boys.

Finally, we should get serious about forming a league of our own, one that values Black athletes and pays them fairly for their services. It won’t be something that can happen overnight, but imagine how awesome it would be to bring Black businessmen and businesswomen together to develop a new league.

Who would be able to resist coming to watch some of the world’s greatest athletes competing on the gridiron who are representing African America to the fullest?

Just a thought.

This article originally published in the August 28, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.