10 One Former Football Player Can Change the Racist World

Michael Chang

Change Takes Substantial Action

Over the years the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has grown significantly in regards to the awareness and support they have received from various members of society. Advocating for these issues can be seen in a wide variety of settings, including politicians, students, teachers, and athletes. Racial discrimination has been present in our society for centuries. There have been many steps taken to attempt to reduce racial issues, however, it is still prevalent and a major problem today. A major advocate and spokesperson for the BLM movement is Colin Kaepernick, a former National Football League (NFL) quarterback. Kaepernick and the BLM community want real change; they want justice and to have racial discrimination eradicated altogether. However, there is not a simple solution that will happen in a short timespan. It will require a united effort. The most important component to addressing this issue is time. Racism has developed and changed over many centuries, thus, it will not be something that can be reversed overnight.

Sports can be influenced by the rest of society (Martin, L. L. 2018). This is something many fail to consider. Many view sports and athletes purely for entertainment and do not consider the types of following athletes have and how many people care and listen to what they say. Athletes can be exceptionally influential and sports can be used as a platform to address major issues (Boykoff, J., & Carrington, B. 2019). This is what Kaepernick did in 2016 when he used his popularity to speak about racial discrimination. In addition to being outspoken about how he felt about racial issues, he decided to kneel for the national anthem prior to games (NFL Media Originals. 2016, October 6). This served as his main action for making a statement. Two specific focuses of Kaepernick’s actions were to defund the police and to make society aware of the police brutality that has occurred for many years (Wyche, S. 2020, August 26). Something that will be discussed later in the chapter is “unconscious racism”. This is important to keep in mind, because what Kaepernick is fighting for would not be considered “unconscious,” because what some of the police officers have done was a conscious decision.

Figure 1: Thearon W. Henderson (Photographer).  

A direct quote from Kaepernick that demonstrates his key message is: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. 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” (Wyche, S. 2020, August 26). Many viewed Kaepernick kneeling as disrespect to the nation and veterans who have served. Over the past four years Kaepernick has received a significant amount of criticism and backlash from other individuals around the league, government officials, and fans. Some powerful individuals who have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with Kaepernick were Roger Goodell (NFL commissioner) and Donald Trump. This backlash has come in the form of negative comments, verbal abuse and Kaepernick losing his job in the NFL. However, this did not faze Kaepernick, and he stayed true to what he believed in. The lack of support he initially received demonstrates that teams and owners either disagreed with what he stood for or feared they could be viewed negatively if they stood with him. His situation raises an important topic, that is, can an individual truly stand up for what they believe in and not be concerned for their reputation and employment? Kaepernick’s tactics and strategy did generate mixed feelings and emotions. It does pose the question: is it sometimes a good thing to create some strong negative emotions to spark more discussion? In my personal opinion I do believe this to be true, because negative emotions can provide attention for an issue. This can be seen with the death of George Floyd.

 

Kaepernick’s Journey

Some facts that demonstrate Kaepernick’s popularity and what he has done for the BLM movement include:

  • Top selling NFL jersey at the start of the 2016 season
  • Barack Obama stated, “he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about,” when speaking about Kaepernick
  • Following the end of 2016, Kaepernick was not offered a contract by any NFL team
  • 2017 President Donald Trump made a very aggressive statement about any player who does not stand for the national anthem. Players began to skip the national anthem altogether to make a statement
  • 2017 NFL and the Players Coalition made an agreement to financially support any player’s community activism endeavors
  • 2019 Kaepernick became the voice and face of a Nike ad campaign (Boren, 2020)

These facts and this timeline demonstrate how polarizing Kaepernick has been, and the fact that he was the face of a Nike campaign when he was not a professional athlete shows how strong his influence was. In addition, all the attention he has received over the last four years has shown the support he has brought to the BLM movement and demonstrates that he was able to make a strong difference in regards to racial discrimination awareness. In 2020 there are some strong examples for how the BLM movement has had an effect on other sports. An example of this is the large percentage of NBA players who put statements on their jerseys about the movement. This reveals how much Kaepernick has helped the movement grow because at one point there was not a significant number of athletes who actively stood with him. However, now entire leagues are showing their support (Casey, 2020).

 

Society Affects Everything

Many people say that you are not born racist; you learn and become racist, as you get older. This is a powerful statement as it illustrates the idea that due to our society and environment we become and think a certain way. This social environment is what needs to change so there are fewer racial issues and situations. Some people view being racist as a choice, but I think to fully understand someone’s thinking and beliefs you need to consider their experiences, their daily interactions, and their social circle. Situations such as smoking, drinking, not caring about climate change, lacking support and empathy for the Indigenous communities are typically viewed as individual decisions. However, there are strong links to the society you live in (Warren, 2020). Something I want you to reflect on is how you were raised and if your environment promoted diversity and inclusivity. Whether it did or did not, this reflection may help you understand the influence and the pivotal role our society has on us as individuals. The Ontario Human Rights Code “provides for equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination (Ontario Human Rights Commission). This demonstrates that there are anti-discrimination laws present, but the problem is that discrimination in relation to race, gender, and sexuality still occurs. Something to consider based on this information is this: if we have laws that are supposed to prevent any individual from being discriminated against, but it still happens, how can we reduce the amount of situations regarding discrimination (Community Tool Box)? One of the first steps when it comes to trying to combat racism is education and awareness. We need the public to learn about the history, but also the current situations and circumstances. It is hard for an individual to support a movement if they do not understand it. Many people in Canada have stated things such as “we are not as bad as the States” or “racism does not even happen in Canada”. It is this type of thinking that contributes to the problem because it neglects the situations that are present in Canada. Although Kaepernick is an American, his advocacy for racial justice has raised awareness all over the world. Society needs more activists like him to grow the awareness and the movement. If more people understand what is really going on, then it may help the enforcement of the anti-discrimination laws. For example, if an average worker observes something in their workplace and they understand what constitutes discrimination, they could report it to their superior.

 

Unconscious Racism

Another major issue in regards to racial discrimination has been referred to as unconscious racism. Cortney Warren talks about how consciously many people would not place a person’s value on their physical appearance. However, she mentions that unconsciously many people have been conditioned to think something different (Warren, 2020). This is why society needs to consider how the social environment that is fostered in workplaces, classrooms, and sports teams can affect an individual. People view racial jokes and comments as harmless but there can be larger implications. This is a very thought provoking message because there are racial thoughts that individuals have that can lead to action which they may not realize is happening. This ties back to the idea that we need to change the social environment if we want to continue to attempt to reduce racial discrimination.

 

One Person Can Make A Difference

Kaepernick is a hero who should be remembered for many years to come. He should be seen as a role model and studied as an example of how one person can make a positive difference. He sacrificed his career and reputation to stand up for what he believed in. Racism is one of society’s biggest issues and something that will take a constant united effort to improve and change. As mentioned in this chapter, the first step with trying to change the issue for the better is raising awareness and education. In a world with so many problems and issues, Kaepernick proves that one person can truly make a difference.

 

References

Boren, C. (2020, August 26). A timeline of Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality,  four years after they began. Retrieved from              https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/06/01/colin-kaepernick-kneeling-history/

Boykoff, J., & Carrington, B. (2019). Sporting dissent: Colin Kaepernick, NFL activism, and       media  framing contests. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 55(7), 829-849.          doi:10.1177/1012690219861594                    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1012690219861594

Casey, T. (2020, August 05). Professional Sports Leagues Finally Step Up for Black Lives           Matter. Retrieved from https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2020/professional-sports-         black-lives-matter/121111

Community Tool Box. (n.d.). Section 4. Strategies and Activities for Reducing Racial Prejudice  and Racism. Retrieved from https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/culture/cultural-        competence/reduce-prejudice-racism/main

Martin, L. L. (2018). The politics of sports and protest: Colin Kaepernick and the practice of              leadership.https://thestacks.libaac.de/bitstream/handle/11858/361/The_Polictics_of_Sport             s_Protest_Colin_Kapernick_and_the_Practice_of_Leadership.pdf?sequence=1

NFL Media Originals (2016, October 6). The Impact of Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem       Kneel NFL Network [Youtube Channel]. Retrieved from            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddTRuCsyQCA

Peterson, G. (2019, August 15). Ex-49er Colin Kaepernick reflects on third anniversary of his      first anthem protest. Retrieved from https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/08/15/ex-49er-            colin-kaepernick-reflects-on-third-anniversary-of-his-first-anthem-protest/

Racial discrimination (brochure). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/racial-             discrimination-brochure

Warren, C. (2020, June 08). Unconscious Racism. Retrieved from  https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/naked-truth/202006/unconscious-racism

Wyche, S. (2020, August 26). Colin Kaepernick explains why he sat during national anthem.       Retrieved from https://www.nfl.com/news/colin-kaepernick-explains-why-he-sat-during-       national-anthem-0ap3000000691077

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The Ball is in Y(Our) Court: Social Change Through and Beyond Sport by Students of KNPE 473 at Queen’s University, Fall 2020 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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