Four weeks and it’s still the narrative ruling football as his protest gains followers with each passing day. He might be the most disliked player in the league, but he has also become the most talked-about professional in American sports. It does not make a difference whether or not his team had a game or not; Kaepernick can’t be denied that his protest has become one of the biggest stories of 2016.
And his influence is growing.
First there were people who doubted his motives, who said he’s just a spoiled athlete. He countered that by donating $1 million to organizations who are fighting police brutality and racial injustice. Everybody from Donald Trump to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney weighed in. Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka told him to “get the hell out” of America, and Tim Tebow, the Heisman-winning quarterback whose brief NFL career has turned into a stint in minor league baseball, and who was best known for additionally taking a knee of his own, said of Kaepernick’s demonstration, “it is about standing for it in the right manner.”
For flying the Confederate flag at his concerts Kid Rock, who has been criticized before, offered up even less nuanced ideas on the quarterback.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, has continued to kneel. “I have been really blessed to be in this position and have the capacity to make the sort of cash I do,” he told reporters after a recent game. “I have to help these communities. It is not right that they’re not put in the position to triumph or given those chances to succeed.”
The existence of black athletes in American sports has always been a complex one. On one hand, you have mainly white fanbases telling them to just “shut up and play,” and on the other, there is an idea that if you are black in America and you’ve got a voice, or cash, you’re obligated to participate in the uplift. Few players have come to experience this rather like Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who has come under fire for what many people view as not speaking out enough as the protests continue.
Even though Newton has fought with his place in the current state of sportsman activism, many fans and critics don’t take into consideration the sport he plays doesn’t offer bonded contracts (And NFL players don’t get paid during the offseason). Any sanction is a cherished and welcomed stream of income to fall back on when Newton’s abilities start to fail him. Despite all of that, protests and the recent police shootings in Charlotte appears to have brought out some touch of public retrospection.
“I have a son and a daughter that I’m responsible for. So how would I be if one day they come home and there is no more dad?”
Maybe Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall has the answer that Newton is thinking of.
Marshall, a fraternity brother and school teammate of Kaepernick’s, took a knee during the national anthem before the NFL season opening game against the Carolina Panthers. Because of that, he lost two of his endorsement deals. CenturyLink and Air Academy Federal Credit Union were carefully worded to show their disapproval of Marshall’s stance.
“We completely value Brandon Marshall’s private decision and right to take an activity to support something in which he firmly believes. America is anchored in the right of people to express their beliefs,” CenturyLink said in a statement. “While we admit Brandon’s right, we additionally believe that whatever issues we confront, we also occasionally must stand together to show our allegiance to our common bond as a nation. In our view, the national anthem is one of those minutes. For this reason, while we want Brandon the greatest this season, we are politely terminating our agreement with him.”
There was some support for Marshall, music mogul Russell Simmons offered him an endorsement deal with a business he owns, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that when sportsmen – especially black athletes – talk up against injustice, the results can have an impact on their careers beyond costly spokesperson positions. Hodges, a part of two Chicago Bulls 90’s championship teams (1991 and ’92, respectively) and winner of the NBA All-Star weekend three point shootout three times, famously wore a dashiki to the White House and openly questioned why the NBA had so few black trainers while the league was overwhelming black. Though teams wouldn’t say no NBA team attempted to pick up Hodges, who was among the finest shooters of his generation, they stepped out of line. Not only did he not play, Abdul Rauf lost millions
Hodges tried to take action. He sued the NBA.
But the truth is the football field and the real world are distinct areas.
Kaepernick and his protest continues to be a daily news item, but the matter is he is being condemned for standing up for what he believes in