By: Youeal Abera
In the world of sports, some athletes become widely recognized and celebrated for things far greater than the game. Colin Kaepernick, former NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, is a prime embodiment of this truth.
While in the NFL, Kaepernick dedicated his time and platform to something far greater and significant than any Super Bowl ring. Outraged at the relentless injustice of police officers shooting and killing unarmed Black civilians, Kaepernick, at the beginning of each game, peacefully protested by taking a knee during the singing of the American national anthem.
Although this courageous act of solidarity to his community was appreciated and supported by those well educated on the horrors of police brutality, others became increasingly outraged. As a result of the uninformed anger directed towards his peaceful protesting, Kaepernick was shunned by the NFL, leaving him without a team to play on.
It’s been two years since he was shut out from the NFL. However, Kaepernick has refused to remain idle. Through his implemented Know Your Rights campaign, Kaepernick has provided Black youth across America with vital information regarding police misconduct and systematic corruption in the criminal justice system.
Moreover, in recognition of his bravery and his resilient persona, Nike recently revealed that they’ve selected Kaepernick to be the face of the 30th anniversary of their Just Do It campaign. On Monday, September 3, Kaepernick tweeted Nike’s promotional campaign and, instantly, Twitter erupted. Emblazoned over a black-and-white photo of his face Nike donned the caption, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It.”
At first, there seemed to be a sincere consensus regarding the praise and approval of both Kaepernick and Nike. People were thrilled that the years of sacrifice and integrity Kaepernick presented was being acknowledged by the very brand that endorses the league he was kicked out of. Nevertheless, as with almost every other instance on the internet, the positivity didn’t last very long.
Shortly after Nike’s image was released, a plethora of conservatives and Trump supporters expressed their rancid disgust with Nike, lambasting the company for endorsing a figure who “disrespects the American flag and national anthem.”
Taking it one step further, these very individuals took to Twitter and Instagram to post videos of themselves dousing their Nike shoes in gasoline and proceeding to ignite them on fire. Additionally, this same group posted images of themselves wearing socks with large holes in them, stating that they had cut off the Nike logo.
What serves as the greatest vexation in the debacle manifested from Nike’s backlash is that people truly don’t understand the injustice Kaepernick is addressing through peaceful protest. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, police killed 1,147 Americans in 2017. In spite of making up only 13% of the American population, 25% of these 1,147 individuals were African-American, which, in turn, highlights the disproportionate rate at which police kill Black folk.
At no point did Kaepernick ever decide to kneel during the game’s singing of the national anthem in order to disrespect the USA. Rather, the sole incentive why Kaepernick has ever taken a knee was to inform white America of the horrors Black folk face every day, as well as the tremendous amount of distrust and pain that they’ve been experiencing from the hands of those sworn to protect them.
The notion that is most infuriating, however, comes from thinking critically of the performative outrage that conservatives keep posting on social media. When Kaepernick first knelt at the beginning of a game, they complained. Afterwards, Kaepernick made sure to explicitly state that police brutality was the only thing he was protesting. When Kaepernick was kicked out of the NFL and continued to articulate his motive for kneeling, he made sure to clearly list police misconduct as his sole reason. Now, as Nike has listed him as their latest spokesperson, right-wing ideologists continue to fume over Kaepernick’s legacy.
Upon close analysis, perhaps the “protection and preservation of America’s national anthem” isn’t the reason behind Kaepernick’s consistent backlash. I mean, after continuously explaining that police brutality is his only reason for kneeling, maybe these angered individuals know very well that the American flag and anthem were never threatened within Kaepernick’s peaceful protesting.
Maybe . . . just maybe . . . those on the right who are “angered” by Kaepernick’s actions are really intimidated by the plausibility that the goal of gaining acknowledgement and justice will become that much closer to the Afrocentric community in their constant struggle with abusive police forces.
The fear that racists felt when they saw Dr. King march or heard Angela Davis speak is the same fear we witness when individuals express anger over Colin Kaepernick kneeling.