About a week before Colin Kaepernick sat down on the bench during the playing of the National Anthem, before a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers, I was finishing up a blog post outlining a need for true athlete activists in the mold of Ali, Brown and Russell. I was writing about our need to create the space for athletes to step up and fill the void of leadership for a new generation of civil rights activists. Enter Colin Kaepernick, our afro wearing, Black, pro quarterback woke legend. While we now have a current radical sports activist to look to before athletes follow a deeper conversation needs to be had. What will happen to those who follow?
Colin Kaepernick is a successful pro football player. He has already made his millions. While he should be commended for the bravery he has exhibited in subjecting himself to vehement nationwide criticism and racism, at the end of the day Mr Kaepernick, (given smart money choices), is set. He doesn’t have to worry about any potential financial ramifications of his protest. But what will happen to the college and high school athletes that follow his lead, the ones who haven’t made hundreds let alone millions yet in their careers. What will bravery get them?
This is a deeply personal question for me given the fact that I am Prep basketball player looking to make my way to a Division I College or University on a scholarship, and then eventually the NBA. I have big basketball dreams, but I am also deeply concerned and passionate about the social justice issues dominating our community today. Though society has come a long way in its’ support of athletes as thinking human beings, there is still a very real stigma against athletes speaking out beyond their sport and actively involving themselves in social and political activities outside of athletics. If we young athletes speak out we put ourselves at risk of being seen as "not fully committed", a wildcard of sort. These types of concerns can, for many, be the difference between pursuing a dream of playing a given sport at the next level and riding the bench into oblivion.
With Colin Kaepernick's protest of the national anthem I have been exposed to a lot of new information, specifically the racist history of our nation’s anthem and it's author. I was made aware of The Star Spangled Banner's pro-slave third verse that has been so conveniently forgotten and ignored. Those new to me revelations, combined with what I already knew about the issues facing myself and other people of color, have me ready to join up with #TeamKaepernick. When my own season of basketball games start this fall my gut says I must follow Colin's lead and take a knee. But unfortunately it's not that simple.
If I join the national anthem protest how will my taking such action be perceived by my new friends in the predominantly white Gould Academy community? Will I become a pariah in my new environment? And what about my recruiting process. Will a coach who doesn't agree with the Kaepernick protest in general, and my kneeling specifically, be hesitant to recruit me? Despite how passionate I am about this cause, this fight, these have been very scary questions and possibilities to confront.
At the end of my junior year of high school I was diagnosed with and then subsequently beat cancer. After I had to fight tooth and nail to recover physically, mentally and skill-wise to reestablish myself in the basketball community and put myself back in a position to play college ball. Could all my effort be erased with one kneel? It's terrifying to think we budding athletes could potentially put our futures in jeopardy just by standing up for what we believe in.
At the end of the day for me, however, it boils down to this; I have to make every attempt to live up to the standards that I hold for others. How can I harp on our need for athletes that we idolize to use their platforms and speak out for the community if I am not doing everything that I can do to use my own platform to speak out as well? I've said to many of my family and friends before that this current fight is bigger than any one person. I can't put that mindset on hold now just because it get's a little uncomfortable personally.
I have to believe that as long as you can thoughtfully express your beliefs and the reasons you hold them, that you can withstand any negative reactions or consequences of standing up, (or kneeling), for a fight you believe in and feel compelled to support. That’s why I have done my research. I can tell you how as a prosecutor Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, routinely prosecuted abolitionists and free blacks. I can tell you how the third stanza of the Anthem states that the foul footsteps of slaves fighting with the British had polluted America. How their blood would cleanse the battlefield of this pollution. I can tell you how the Veteran's many have tried to say are disrespected by protests of the National Anthem are more blatantly disrespected by the way their country treats them when they return from fighting for our freedom to protest. I can also tell you how beyond the playing of the national anthem, demonstrations of "patriotism" at sporting events routinely come not out of our love for country, but out of love for the all mighty dollar, as the military has to pay for them to happen. Because while we can't avoid haters who seek to belittle and bully us into silence we can always come to battle with receipts, ready to stand tall and informed.
We finally have our woke Black sports’ activist, but now it’s on us to build on his efforts and do our part to bolster this protest and continuing the struggle. While doing so will rarely be comfortable, and it will almost always be subject to hate and negativity, we must persevere. This fight is bigger than any one of us. We simply cannot in good conscious say we want change if we aren't willing to get on our collective knees and have each others backs in this ongoing fight for our communities and our very lives.