There was a moment in the five-part documentary O.J.: Made In America, excellently done by director Ezra Edelman as part of ESPN‘s 30 for 30 film series, where Mike Gilbert, O.J.’s former agent recalls a conversation between him and O.J. in the months after the criminal had ended.
“You know- all the black people in my life used to tell me, man, white America will turn on you, and they will zip up your nigger suit on you so fast and they will forget about you like that,”
His words proved prophetic, as O.J., pre-murder trail was as safe a black man that most rich and affluent whites loved an admired, was abandoned by almost every white friend he had post-aquittal.
This week, we saw Colin Kaepernick not only get tailored for his ‘nigger suit,’ but get fully dressed, zipped, buttoned up and wiped down with it on. All because he refused to stand for a national anthem that projects racist ideologies in a time where people were enslaved for comfort and profit for a country that has seen racial progress go down the toilet not only in the last few years, but especially so during the last few months. His protest was silent. His explanation clear and concise. The response? Typical of a country that continues to emit gas that stinks of hypocrisy.
First, let’s rewind to four years ago.
During the 2012 season, Kaepernick was used as a backup novelty Wildcat quarterback during the San Francisco 49ers 6-2 season. All of that changed in the Week 10 game against St. Louis at home where starting QB Alex Smith suffered a concussion and was knocked out of the game. In came Kaepernick, who led the team to a 24-24 tie. He continued to impress and started the remainder of the season even though Smith, who was the NFL’s third rated passer at the time of his injury, was ready to come back by Week 12. The offense looked different behind Kaepernick’s skill set-a 6’4″ strong-armed quarterback with out-of-this world athleticism and 4.4 speed. His play elevated the Niners to a new level and he lead them to Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens and within a red zone touchdown of making the game potentially go into overtime for the first time in history. They may have lost the game, but the Niners, who toiled in or around the cellar of their division for the better part of a decade were relevant again and Kaepernick was their new darling. He was the toast of San Francisco as his #7 jersey flew off of the racks. We’ll get to the jerseys later.
The following year, the Niners were again contenders int he NFC. Kaepernick, who accounted for 25 touchdowns (21 passing, four rushing), led the team again to the NFC Championship game against the rival Seattle Seahawks, where he threw a jump ball to Michael Crabtree that was famously thwarted by Richard Sherman and intercepted to end the Niners repeat bid for a conference championship.
By 2014, the honeymoon began to wear off. Kaepernick, and the 49ers for that fact, were too inconsistent and finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The touchdowns were down. The interceptions were up. Turmoil was heavy as Jim Harbaugh left as coach to return to the University of Michigan. Whispers started among the Niner faithful that the league was starting to “figure” Kaepernick out. Others worried about his massive eight year, $126 million contract extension that he signed before the season and whether he was worth it.
Enter 2015: The Niners entered this season in disarray. Several players, including perennial All-Pro Patrick Willis, Pro Bowler Justin Smith and star linebacker Chris Borland, retired. Aldon Smith, while a talent on defense, was finally let go. Running a new offense under new coach Jim Tomsula (who was clearly in over his head as head coach), Kaepernick struggled with six touchdowns and five interceptions before being shelved for the season with a shoulder injury in Week 9 of a lost season. After the season, Tomsula was canned and Chip Kelly was hired with be the new head coach. There would be hope that Kaepernick, who could thrive in Chip Kelly’s fast paced, read-option based attack, would see a resurgence. All that changed last Friday when the national anthem played and he choose to stay seated.
The outrage of Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem sounded familiar. People lined up on news programs and sports stations across the nation to either voice displeasure or soft support for his ideal. He was called everything from “unpatriotic”, “disrespectful”, “un-American”, to “childish.” People chided him for supposedly not having respect for the military and the country and some called for him to be suspended and even banned for the league. Fans posted videos burning Kaepernick’s jersey calling him a ‘monkey,’ ‘rag head nigger’ (in reference to untrue rumors that Kaepernick’s converted to Islam this summer) and ‘boy.’ All the hoopla on whether he should have stood or not drowned out the main reason why he choose not to stand in the first place. As he stated
I am 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.
His words ran true. Four years removed from Trayvon Martin, two years from Michael Brown and just a month or so from Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, America has been treated to a full dose of what racism, xenophobia and fear of black people and looks like when placed in the minds of those who are the law and people who unconditionally support them. It’s a narrative that seems like a broken record and continues to be brought into the forefront. From Freddie Gray to Sandra Bland and talks about criminal justice reform and reconditioning which pass by the wayside, he had enough. He had enough of America turning a blind eye and making excuses. He had enough of making people comfortable. He had to take a stand. And did so-by sitting down.
His move is brave. It may cost him his career, and sponsors and wealth that he has accumulated in his six-year career. Don’t believe so? Consider the following:
Craig Hodges. Hodges, who was a guard on the 1991 and 1992 Chicago Bulls championship teams, showed up to the White House in 1992 after the Bulls second championship run, dressed in a dashiki and delivered a hand written note to then-President George H.W. Bush, expressing his displeasure with the President’s lack of action towards helping minorities during his tenure. Shortly afterwards, Hodges criticized his teammate Michael Jordan for not using his celebrity to advocate for the disenfranchised. Not long afterwards, he was waived by the Bulls and never played in the NBA again.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Rauf, who was born Chris Jackson, was third overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets out of LSU. He was a dynamic scoring point guard with immense talent. In 1991, he converted to Islam and changed his name. He won the NBA’s most improved player in 1993 and led the league in free throw percentage in 1993-94 and 1995-96 seasons. Then during the 1996 season, Abdul-Rauf refused to stand during the playing of the National Anthem, stating that the flag stood for tyranny and standing for the anthem would conflict with his Islamic beliefs. Foolishly, the league suspended him for a game and fined him a game check. An agreement was worked out between the league and the player’s union that Abdul-Rauf would stand, but would instead lower his head or be allowed to pray during the anthem.
But the damage was done. Fans called radio stations in Denver and blasted him. The word seemed to get out. Inexplicably, after a season where he averaged a career high 19.2 points and 6.8 assists, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings (then the NBA’s version of Siberia), where his minutes declined even though he was still able to perform at a high level. He finished his career out of the NBA and playing overseas.
Paul Roberson. Roberson was the epitome of a star. He was arguably one of the first stars of college football in its early days and also starred in the early days of pro football. He became much more known for his film career and activism. He was also a scholar who studied aboard and embraced Pan Africanism and civil rights. Labeled a communist for admiration of pro-Soviet ideals that suggested against Jim Crow and discrimination, Roberson was laid bare and tarnished by Senator Joseph McCarthy and McCathyism where he was effectively blackballed and was bound to stay in the United States via travel ban. His ban was lifted by the 1960s, but by that time, his health was steadily declining. He lived in seclusion in Philadelphia until his death.
Kaepernick can lose everything, but it seems to be a risk that he weighed. He stated as much when he said that if he loses his sponsors or contracts, he knows that the did the right thing. It’s applause worthy and admirable that he acknowledges he’s willing to take a stand for justice. So let’s take a look at the arguments against his protest and why they are hypocritical.
Argument 1: He’s disrespecting the men and women in uniform who fought and died for that flag and that anthem.
Ok, let’s back up. Last time, I checked Freedom of Speech was one of those “Bill of Rights” that listed in the United States Constitution that we all learned about sometime in grade school, right? You know, the right to say what you want and not be persecuted or the right to petition government for for redress of grievances without fear of punishment; remember that? A right given to all citizens of this country, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or whatever. Did you forget about that?
Just to make this even more ridiculous, while there are veterans that have blasted Kaepernick for his decision is a movement on social media to restore sanity. Veterans who back him have started the #VetsForKaepernick, who support Kaepernick exercising his right to protest. You know, the same rights that they fought and died for. As Jim Wright, a veteran whose post on Facebook in support of Kaepernick has gone viral stated: “A true veteran might not agree with Colin Kaepernick, but a true veteran would fight to the death to protect his right to say what he believes.”
Since we’re on the topic of veterans, can we talk about how plenty of black and other minority soldiers came back from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and even the conflicts of the last 25 years and been subject to ridicule, racism and discrimination as if they had sacrificed nothing for this country? No homes, no jobs, no appreciation. Things that still happen to this day. You know the soldiers who this country say they love and adore? Sacrifice your all-family, relationships, limbs and state of mind only to be spat upon. Anyone? No? Thought so.
Argument 2: It wasn’t the right platform or right way to protest.
So let’s get this straight. After the visions of Ferguson and Baltimore, where black people were called thugs and animals for rioting and called racists for having ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests with calls for peaceful assembly (also in the Bill of Rights), Kaepernick decided to protest in the most peaceful way possible and that wasn’t enough? Which one is it America? You want us ripping shit up or shutting the hell up and being peaceful? Or would you like Option 3? Play on the field and do as you’re told. I thought that might be it.
He used his platform to get us to have the conversation. Maybe you should focus on why he sat down instead of the act itself. There’s more to it, I promise!
Argument 3: He was raised by white parents, so he couldn’t have possibly suffered at all. Plus, he’s a millionaire. He’s not even fully black.
This one is worthy of a backhand calling for a duel. It’s a known fact that Kaepernick was adopted by a white family in the Milwaukee area and was given up by a white mother who was impregnated by an African-American man. So him growing up middle class in a white neighbor hood, raised by a white family, made him impervious to racism and discrimination in this country. Because of that white blood in his veins, he couldn’t possibly be in tune with the ills of his black counterparts, right? And neither could any white person in America who blatantly sees whats going on and chooses to address it. Did I get that right?
I’m shaking my head right now. Like, really shaking it.
It all stinks of hypocrisy. America doesn’t have a problem of ungrateful bi-racial athletes who speak out on injustices. It has a problem of acceptance, acknowledgement and understanding of the problems that plague black people in this country and people of color all across the world. Somehow, Americans live in a bubble where nothing is wrong. It’s like they live in this utopia where everything moves along in harmony. As soon as someone says that the picture in the house on the wall is crooked, everyone gets in an uproar and throws that person out, but they refuse to acknowledge that the picture is crooked-or better yet, fix it.
Every thing is all good as a black person in America if you follow the template: Go to school, be a good student, follow the rules, behave, go to college, get a job, build a rapport with your colleagues and a respectable career. Get married, raise a family, pay your taxes, stay within the lines and everything will be fine. People don’t get uncomfortable until you start posting “black stuff”: Garvey-isms and Malcolm-isms. Talking about freedom and liberation. Buying Black and only Black. Black Fists and natural hair. Claiming to be unapologetically black. Saying that Black Lives Also Matter and that you won’t rest until the world knows it. Speaking out on the bullshit that you see with your own two eyes. Then, people get uncomfortable. No one cares until someone brings it up. Then, you’re the problem for doing so. Then, people look at you like you’ve contracted the plague. Then…and only then, will they zip up your nigger suit and make sure that it fits.
Hypocrisy in America is having a Declaration of Independence stating that that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, all while signed by men who enslaved human beings and counted on them for labor and profit. Hypocrisy in America is allowing four little girls in Birmingham to be bombed and then finally persecuting their killers while they had one foot in the grave. Hypocrisy in America is allowing Muhammed Ali to win a gold medal in Rome for this country and then come back and not be allowed to sit at a lunch counter. It’s also demonizing him as a draft dodger for his beliefs then hailing him as hero 30 years later as the world watched when the Olympics came back to our shores. And then giving him a farewell upon his death and lauding him as an icon when you wanted nothing to do with his black ass when he was world champion at age 22.
Hypocrisy in America is having your sports league celebrate “Pride Month”, but potentially punishing players for protesting with ‘Black Lives Matter’ on their shirts. Hypocrisy in America is wearing “I Am Darren Wilson” shirts to a St. Louis Cardinals game, but being outraged when four St. Louis Rams come out in pre-game intros in solidarity with their hands up. Hypocrisy in America is demonizing Nate Parker as a rapist for a case he was acquitted in 17 years ago right around the time of his release of his movie about revolutionary Nat Turner (which is sure to make white folks in America cringe and uncomfortable), but seeing Brock Turner be caught by two men raping a woman, found guilty, but only sentenced to six months in jail and only doing three months because of the judge being fearful of the “impact” it would have his life. Hypocrisy in America is cannabis being legalized in states and rich white men making money in enterprises off of a plant that has landed Blacks and Hispanics in jail disproportionately more and for longer sentences to whites who committed the same crime.
Hypocrisy in America is feeding law enforcement the night after a riot to thank them for their service, but ignoring the thousands of school children in the same city who were out of school and depended on the free lunch program to eat. It’s criticizing Gabby Douglas for not putting her hand over her heart during the anthem but was silent when Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs did the same. It’s blasting Antonio Cromartie for his numerous kids, but says nothing of Tom Brady and his multiple children by two different women-including leaving the mother of his firstborn for his current wife and mother of his second child. It’s painting John Chaney as a curmudgeon, but Bill Belicheck as a genius. It’s characterizing Ryan Lochte as a kid who made a mistake, who could lose his sponsors one day, but gain sponsors and a spot on Dancing With The Stars the next day, but labeling Colin Kaepernick as a problem.
Most of all, America hates mirrors. It hates to look in it and see the ugly visage that stares back: flaws blemishes and all. And it refuses to acknowledge it. In this election cycle where the two main parties in this country are fighting for the black vote, they have shown in their unique way that they don’t care about black people at all. Whether it’s Confederate flags at a conservative rally or ignoring the issues in lieu of running out the clock until November for the party that claims to be the “party of inclusion.”
Herein, lies the problem. Unless America is willing to actually deal with the problems that the Kaepernicks, Hodges, Robersons, Abdul-Raufs, Browns, Abdul-Jabbars and many others point out, we’ll continue to have the same conversations.
After a while, people will get tired of talking. And that could be bad news for a lot of people.