Restarting the Conversation: Colin Kaepernick

A fresh take on the protests by Colin Kaepernick.

Every once in a while, masses find unity in a sight, an action, a concept or simply in their ideals. It is rare, but it does happen. Though I do not think there is an explanation for it, certain aspects of our societies draw us together, provoke emotions within us, cause us to believe so strongly about a subject that we are prepared to yell, to scream, to broadcast our opinions regardless of who may see and what they may think. These things take many shapes and forms, but they make us passionate, make us believe and remind us that we are part of bigger things.

In America, one manifestation of this exists through sports. Most specifically, through American football. This game is celebrated, it is a medium through which people connect, regardless of their socio-economic status, political orientation, race, religion or most things that typically divide people. This game is so widely celebrated that it is played and watched by individuals of all ages, in all locations; colleges have stadiums, workplaces have games on the television, poor neighborhoods have kids throwing footballs around. Even the media gets behind this sport. American movies abundantly feature the tale of the football star and his cheerleading sweetheart, while football fields are seemingly becoming the default backdrop for new music videos.

Most of you probably already understand everything I have just asserted. Most of you probably relate to this. No wonder people celebrate this sport. Sure it involves a lot of standing around, but that just makes it even more glorious when a play succeeds, when the star player scores the game-winning touchdown, and when your team celebrates its victory, whether for the first time or for the hundredth. Imagine the pride felt in those moments, imagine the power of all of the people who relate to this, all of those people who feel this passion, who partake in this unity surrounding football.

Now, imagine what would happen if this unity was not just revelled in, but applied to invoke social change. This is what Colin Kaepernick continues to appeal for with his ongoing protests for people of color in America. Kaepernick’s protests first became apparent to the public as he sat during the national anthem when it played before the 49er’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers late this August. He had sat during the anthem in two other preseason games this year, but those instances did not create any traction in the media, no doubt trumped by tales of Olympic controversy.

Regardless of the time it took for people to notice Kaepernick’s protests, they have now and it is likely that even Kaepernick could not have foreseen the catalytic effects his choices have had on the sporting world. Suddenly athletes, coaches, managers, commentators, fans and all others unified under the passion this sport provokes are being asked to choose a side: will they stand up for — or perhaps more appropriately, sit down for — racial equality? Will they denounce Kaepernick’s protests, calling them inappropriate and him unpatriotic? Or, will they take no action, choosing complacency over potential change?

It is not the first time that sports fans in America have been asked these questions. In fact, Kaepernick joins a long legacy of sports activists including Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. These are all athletes who used their status as sports stars to raise awareness for issues affecting minorities in America. The majority of these protests caused great controversy in the public eye, and Kaepernick’s protest is no different. He has been berated globally by individuals and the media alike. His protests have been called inappropriate, unpatriotic and he himself has been told to “show some respect, or get the hell out!”.

Amidst such controversy, many have begun to ask why is he still protesting? Well, he is still protesting because nothing has changed yet, but it might. Whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s methods you must acknowledge that he has restarted a conversation that we do not have often enough, a conversation that is frequently suppressed, a conversation about our rights and the rights of others, about ethics, about society and all of its ugly realities. This is not a conversation we are encouraged to have. Just think back to July of this year when one weekend saw two innocent black men killed by the police and another retaliating violently by shooting five white police officers in Texas. This tragedy was the result of systemic racial problems in this country. Yet, news about these issues just disappeared when the Olympics started and it became more interesting to read about swimmers who lie, and criticize gymnasts who don’t ‘appreciate the anthem in the right way.’

It is important that we know these things, but we should not allow one conversation to silence another. What Kaepernick has restarted is a conversation that needs to be had, and he is finding that he will not have to carry this alone, football players across the country are following his lead and protesting in this manner. These players know that they are creating controversy, but they are exercising their rights and recognizing the positive impact that their actions may have on the lives of others.

Kaepernick, along with all those following him and all those who came before him, is recognizing that his sport unites people. It makes them passionate, it makes them proud, and it makes them believe. What he now asks of these unified people is that they use this passion to address social issues like the unjust treatment of people of color in America. Kaepernick has restarted this conversation, and it is now our duty to continue it. Whether or not we agree with his means, if we believe in his end, in equality, then we cannot stop talking about this, we cannot forget it and we cannot allow this matter to be obscured any longer.

I know that I’m not going to stop talking about this, are you?

Sofia Arthurs-Schoppe

Sofia is a senior chemistry and communication major at William Jewell College. Currently she serves as the Editor in Chief of the Hilltop Monitor.

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