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Off The Plantation - Colin Kaepernick speaks up

By Barrington M. Salmon -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Sep 6, 2016 - 11:07:06 AM

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Silent no more - A Black athlete speaks up, forces a look at reality of race in America

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In this Sept. 1 file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick walks off the field after warm-ups before an NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego. The Santa Clara police chief has vowed to continue providing a safe environment at San Francisco home games after the union representing his officers threatened to boycott policing the stadium if the 49ers don’t discipline Kaepernick for criticizing police and refusing to stand during the national anthem. Chief Michael Sellers said in a statement, Sept. 3, that he will urge union leadership to put citizens’ safety first. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

“I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This bold declaration by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at a press conference following a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers set off a firestorm that shows no signs of abating.

Mr. Kaepernick, 28, explained after cameras caught him sitting during the playing of the national anthem, that he was protesting police brutality and institutional racism reflected in stark disparities between Blacks in America and their White counterparts.

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“People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot things that are going on that are unjust,” Mr. Kaepernick explained to a gaggle of reporters. “People aren’t being held accountable. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

“I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

Mr. Kaepernick, a Milwaukee native, hammered rogue cops. He said he, like many Black men, has been stopped by police and recalled when he and a friend were moving out of a house while in college. They were the only two Blacks in the neighborhood and neighbors called the police who came into their apartment uninvited with guns drawn.

“There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable,” he said. “People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”

When asked if he was concerned that his position could be seen as a blanket indictment of law enforcement in general, Mr. Kaepernick replied: “There is police brutality. People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change.”

“There’s things we can do to hold them more accountable. Make those standards higher. You have people that practice law and are lawyers and go to school for eight years, but you can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane. Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.”

Police union leaders were incensed, demanded an apology and in San Francisco, police officers are threatening to boycott Niners games.

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, middle, kneels during the national anthem before the team’s NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers, Sept. 1, in San Diego. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

Longtime civil rights activist Dr. Harry Edwards, a friend and advisor to Mr. Kaepernick, describes the professional athlete as “a man suddenly becoming aware his house is on fire.” Mr. Kaepernick said he had discussed issues of race with Dr. Edwards many times over the past several years and Dr. Edwards has been a mentor for quite a while.

“My position on Kaep is that he ABSOLUTELY has a constitutional right to express his opinion on the politics of diversity in America today,” Dr. Edward said in a statement to The Final Call. “He is courageous, well informed, and steadfast in his position. He is evolving through an ‘awakening’ and (perhaps) really understanding for the first time—given his background—the true depth and scope of the history of anti-Black racial hatred and injustice in America.”

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Jackie Robinson in his Kansas City Monarchs uniform in 1945.

“And because it appears to have ‘come to him’ through self-education, suddenly as a stark, jarring awareness and reality (rather than over time through growing up from day one being socialized in the ‘racial truths’ in this ‘land of the free’), his response seems from afar more akin to that of a man startled awake to his house on fire than the result of a deliberately crafted articulation of a considered political position.”

Dr. Edwards, an advisor to the 49ers for more than 30 years, has, for most of his career, been a vocal advocate for Black athletes’ rights and has worked to improve their conditions and militate for change. He was instrumental, while at San Jose State, in organizing the 1968 protests at the Olympics in Mexico.

He advised Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won gold and bronze medals in the 200-meter race and each raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the national anthem. Their gesture, with fists raised to demonstrate their support for human rights and in solidarity with oppressed people in the United States and the world, is one of the most powerful political acts in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

Attacks and support follow call for justice

Mr. Kaepernick’s stand incited the fury and vitriol of critics who disparaged him, calling him among other names, unpatriotic, pampered, ungrateful, disrespectful and racist. Trolls invaded his Twitter page to harangue him, call him a “f----n n----r” and express hope that he tears a knee or breaks his back during the NFL’s regular season.

Some 49er fans burned his football jersey; meanwhile seven of 10 National Football League executives who were interviewed by a sports journalist said Mr. Kaepernick is hated by most teams and would be a pariah if he became available to be traded. He made the 49ers roster. Even his birth mother, who gave him up for adoption as a baby, tweeted her disapproval.

But Mr. Kaepernick also drew support and praise from Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan; activist and humanitarian Harry Belafonte; former Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul Jabbar; 1968 Olympic medalists and activists Dr. John Carlos and Dr. Tommie Smith; Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith; and noted filmmaker Spike Lee.

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In this March 15, 1996 fi le photo, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Chicago. This was Abdul-Rauf's first game back since he was suspended by the NBA on March 12, 1996, for refusing to participate in the national anthem pre-game ceremony. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision this week to refuse to stand during the playing of the national anthem as a way of protesting police killings of unarmed Black men has drawn support and scorn far beyond sports. Through the years, "The Star-Spangled Banner" has become a symbol of both patriotism and politics.Photo: AP/Wide World photos
Not a few supporters likened the Kaepernick stand to Muhammad Ali and baseball icons Curt Flood and Jackie Robinson, who endured persecution while playing historic roles that impacted society beyond sports.  

Min. Farrakhan commended Mr. Kaepernick’s bravery.

“At the root of your courage is love; a love that would allow you to sacrifice yourself, your income, your reputation, to take a stand for those who are unable to stand for themselves,” he said.

“The people that terrorize others will continue to terrorize others who, in their cowardice and weakness or desire to benefit from the status quo, stand by the wayside and allow others to stand, when if they summoned courage they would stand with you as well,” said the Minister. (See his statement in this edition of The Final Call.)

Mr. Belafonte, an outspoken critic of those who overtly or covertly support the oppression of Black people, added his praise.

“I think that is a noble thing that he has done. I think speaking out and letting people become aware of the fact that you are paying homage to an anthem that also has a constituency that by the millions suffer, is a righteous thing to do,” he told News One’s Roland Martin during an interview. “To mute the slave has always been to the best interests of the slave owner. I think that when a Black voice is raised in protest to oppression, those who are comfortable with our oppression are usually the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.”

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In this Oct. 16, 1968, file photo, extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest,U. S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze medal in the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
Political commentator and international speaker Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever said although she isn’t as famous as Mr. Kaepernick, she’s been sitting during the national anthem for years and has refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance since fourth grade.

“Like him, until we’re a nation that truly embodies and reflects its highest ideals, I will not stand for the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance,” asserted Dr. Jones-DeWeever, mother of two young men and president of Incite Unlimited, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm. “I would go to my sons’ games and people knew. No one bothered me. After President Obama got elected, I started standing again for a while but after all that has happened since, I’ve been sitting again.”

“He is holding this nation to its highest ideals. His critics are okay with people being killed by the state, killed by the government and nothing is happening to the killers, there’s no accountability.”

Dr. Jones-DeWeever echoed a sentiment offered by Kaepernick supporters, that rather than focus on the issues of injustice, race and the targeting of people of color by law enforcement, his critics seek to deflect attention to the red herring that Mr. Kaepernick was anti-military.

“His critics are deliberately deflecting. They don’t give a damn about our lives, that our children are being shot on the street,” she said. “People all over the world know what’s going on here. When I was in Germany, they were asking about Michael Brown.”

“It just shows you that there is a strong element who continue to fight against Black people, who hold in callous disregard the lives of Black people. Those who don’t support him don’t care about Black people, my life, your life, every Black person’s life and I don’t care about their opinion. Those who truly love Black people should support him.”

Even as Mr. Kaepernick was rebuked by those who accused him of dishonoring the military, social media support from veterans exploded. The hashtag #VeteransforKaepernick began trending after soldier Trey Walker posted on Twitter: “If I became rich and famous today, and decided to speak out about the ongoing, systematic oppression of Black people and constant police brutality in this country, which uniform would you burn. Stop deliberately trying to miss the message by crucifying the messenger.”

Army veteran Frank J. Philips said he served his country so that Kaepernick and other Americans could exercise the right of free speech and enjoy all the rights and privileges afforded this country’s citizens.

“He’s a guy who was exercising his right as an American. I took no offense as an American who served honorably for 20 years,” said the New York City native and Laurel, Md., resident. “People who abridge that right are, in essence, un-American. You’re really against the Constitution. If he wants to do something as benign as not salute the flag, come on, I’m not gonna be moved by that. If I’m truly American, I have to accept that.”

Mr. Phillips, an associate professor of communications and public relations at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland for the past eight years, said he as a Black man clearly sees the inequalities, the inconsistencies and the vagaries of a system that is often skewed against Black people.

“I’m proud of the young man, given the losses he may incur. He’s an $11 million target. All who truly love America must support him,” said Mr. Phillips.

That support is tangible too because according to several sports outlets, Mr. Kaepernick’s jersey is a hot commodity, moving from 20th to third in sales in about a week.

Yet rather than receiving the unqualified support from his fellow athletes, few have come out publicly or joined him in his crusade. In fact, during a recent preseason game, Kaepernick teammate Eric Reed kneeled with him during the national anthem and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Seattle Jeremy Lane sat on a bench before a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders.  

According to published reports, Mr. Kaepernick expressed appreciation, particularly for Lane’s gesture of solidarity. He added that he’s received growing support from “numbers” of players around the league.

“I think there are a lot of conversations happening not only in NFL locker rooms but around the country,’’ he said. “I’ve also had friends that aren’t on football teams say, ‘You know, I respect what you’re doing; I support you. I’ve had more conversations about human rights and oppression and things that need to change in the last week than I’ve had in my entire life. And the fact that those conversations are happening is a start.’’

Dave Zirin, sports editor and columnist for the Nation, said he believes there will be reprisals against Mr. Kaepernick.

“I expect retaliation inside the NFL,” he said.

Former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, Matt Hasselbeck, former Niners’ coach Jim Harbaugh and current New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz were among the first to disavow and castigate Mr. Kaepernick.

Dr. Edwards offered a stinging rebuke to current and former players, saying their opinions would carry more weight if they had cared to push back against all the extra judicial murders by law enforcement.

“I would take their opinion on what Kaep is doing more SERIOUSLY if I could see THEIR protest statements re: Eric Gardner being choked to death (only a few miles from where Victor Cruz, practices and plays football) or on the killing of Philando Castile (just outside of St Paul, Minnesota and minutes from where Alex Boone lines up to play football),” he said.

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“And I would really like to see their expressed opinions of outrage re: the killings of Mike Brown, or 12-year-old Tamir Rice, or 7-year-old Aryana Jones or Trayvon Martin, and the scores of others who have died at the hands of police since 2012 and the senseless death of Oscar Grant on the BART platform in Oakland, CA.”

Recently retired New York Times sportswriter William C. Rhoden spoke at a September journalists’ roundtable in Washington, D.C., and discussed Mr. Kaepernick’s stance and the resulting furor. The author of the 2006 book, “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete,” said the conditions that athletes exist in doesn’t encourage stepping out as boldly as this quarterback did.

“Blacks are concentrated on the playing field, not in the front offices and earning millions weakened athletes and they shied away from social causes for fear of losing their wealth,” he explained. “White people tell you when it’s safe and you can protest within this box.”

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