“No refuge could save the hireling and slave /From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave / And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The Star Spangled Banner, America’s National Anthem, elicits pride in its citizens. We rise, tip our caps, and touch our hearts at its words. Written by Francis Scott Key specifically about the Battle of Fort McHenry, it brings forth tears to veterans, adoration in its constituents…and controversy in its interpretation. For context, consider America’s situation at the time. Newly independent with its Southern states dependent on an economy where slavery was the crux of production, The War of 1812 was fought between Britain and America due to trade restrictions related to Britain’s ongoing war with France. Part of Britain’s strategy, as shown by the orders of British Royal Navy Admiral George Cockburn noted “Let the landings you make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. … The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Madison will be hurled from his throne.” In essence, the British wanted to topple the Southern Economy by luring away it’s crux with the prospect of freedom.
Now fast forward to 1814, the night of the British assault on Fort McHenry…when the Star spangled banner was written. Staring at a tattered American flag, Key was inspired. He created history with 3 verses, etching his name into America’s history books forever. When Key noted “no refuge could save the hireling and slave”, he was referencing thousands of escaped slaves who had taken the British offer to discard their chains and adopt freedom… and he was also taking glee in their death. America’s anthem, much like its history, was written with ink made from the blood of African American slaves.
Enter Colin Kaepernick. Born in a downtrodden section of Milwaukee to a white mother and black father, he was given up for adoption shortly after birth due to his father abandoning his mother and his mother being destitute. Lucky enough to avoid the perils of the system and foster care, he was adopted into a loving home by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. A 4.0 GPA student in high school, he was nominated as an “All-State” selection in football, basketball, and baseball his senior year in high school. After accepting a scholarship to the University of Nevada, Kaepernick ended his career as the ONLY player in Division 1 FBS football to pass for over 10k yards and rush for over 4,000. He graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management. Prior to the draft, a sports researcher looking into his background queried his high school coach about his tattoos. “Look, Colin is a 4.3-GPA guy, from Wisconsin, with a pet tortoise. If you’re looking for a story about a player overcoming the thug life, you’ve got the wrong guy.”** (www.unr.edu/documents/business/unr-alumnimag-full.pdf)
His rapid ascension within the NFL is a well-known story. Controversially took over Alex Smith’s job due to injury and led the 49ers to 2 NFC Championships and 1 Super Bowl. In June of 2014 he was signed to a 6-year, $126 million dollar contract. At the end of 2014 his professional mentor, Jim Harbaugh, accepted the head coaching vacancy at his alma-mater, The University of Michigan. Losing an ingenious offensive mind that tailored a complex run-based/play action offense around his skill sets caused a regression the following year.
August 9th – 2014. The Michael Brown shooting. July 2014 – Eric Garner is choked to death by NYPD police officials over “allegedly” (never proven) selling loose cigarettes. November 22nd, 2014 – Tamir Rice is murdered by a police officer within seconds of exiting his car based off of a call in noting that a child “may have a toy gun but it looks real” in a local park. On a national level, Black Lives Matter grows from a saying into a group with a powerful rallying cry and presence in political theatres. The frequency of videos showing overt police brutality picks up…due to the decreased cost and increased popularity of video capable smart phones. FBI reporting indicated that there were 444 “justifiable” homicides in 2014. Where does this number come from? VOLUNTARY reporting to the FBI from police agencies. In total there are roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies that are able to report to the FBI. How many reported in 2014? While the FBI refuses to acknowledge, it is roundly thought to be no more than 400 and as low as 220. Using 400 as a high end benchmark, that indicates that 2% of police agencies reported a total of 444 homicides. Basic algebra will tell you that the actual number is most likely beyond startling. Independent researchers using news articles as a reference, put the number at just over 1,000.
When Colin sat for the anthem after the first preseason game in 2016, he answered “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.” He then decided to take a knee rather than sit, feeling that it did not disrespect the flag while still upholding his message loud and clear. The result? It was two sided. Half of America wanted to demonize him. Un-American. Traitor. Spoiled. Loser. Failure of a quarterback. The other half? Activist. Pioneer for social justice. It’s no surprise that the line was alone black and white lines.
He then proceeded to have one of his best statistical seasons. 18 total TDs compared to just 4 interceptions. A 90.7 Quarterback rating. Never mind that the 49ers implemented a failed college system that worked with 19 year olds because Chip Kelly recruited the biggest and fastest athletes in the West. In the NFL, everyone runs a 4.5. The ingenuity of Harbaugh’s read-option run based threat was replaced with a simplistic up-tempo offense. Defensive players around the NFL had already gotten adjusted to Chip Kelly’s scheme after year one…and a noticeable decline occurred in Philadelphia after year one. Did everyone think that a change to the West Coast would make NFL coaches and coordinators forget how simple his offense was? Then the retirements and injuries. Patrick Willis and Joe Staley were, arguably, the two best players at their position in the entire NFL. Both retired relatively young in their careers. Frank Gore to Indianapolis replaced by an injury prone Carlos Hyde. Michael Crabtree gone. In 2016 his most explosive receiving threat was…Jeremy Kerley.
For his career, Colin has completed near 60% of his passes, for nearly 180 yards per game with a 2.5:1 TD to Interception ratio. His athleticism hasn’t diminished, making him an absolute puzzle for defenses to account for if used properly. Is he one of the 32 best quarterbacks in football? I lean towards “yes” but, for arguments sake, let’s say he is not. Let’s say that Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, and Brock Osweiler are “better” quarterbacks. Teams in the NFL carry 2, sometimes 3 active QBs on their rosters for game day. Let’s round that to 75 active game day quarterbacks every Sunday. Does a 60% completion percentage and a near 3:1 Touchdown to interception ration have a place as one of the 75 best quarterbacks in the
NFL? Anyone with an understanding of football and a truly neutral point of view knows the answer to this.
When Muhammad Ali was convicted for draft dodging in 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson did not gloat in front of cameras to hail a victory for America…nor insinuate that Ali was Un-American. The 1960s were the crux of the Civil Rights movement in America. Initially, Ali supporters (predominantly blacks) were very much in danger. Writers supporting Ali received bomb threats and hate mail. The media labeled him a “punk”. He was vilified publicly…but not by our President. Something strange happened though. As Vietnam dragged out, the lower approval ratings for the war spiraled. Two months after Ali’s conviction for draft dodging, approval for the war was below 30%…prior to that, it had never dipped below 50%. Americans, now white AND black, began to see Ali’s message not as one of cowardice…but of unbelievable courage. And TRUTH.
With the introduction of lucrative endorsement deals for athletes in the 1980’s, most icons in sports were encouraged to keep their mouths shut on politics. “If you say this, you’ll sell less XYZ” was a line of thinking adopted by some of our eras biggest stars. The biggest fish of them all, Michael Jordan, was such an enigma off of the basketball court that all he seemed to be (aside from the GOAT) was a gambling, cheating degenerate that donated a lot of money to good causes…but never vocalized those causes.
Enter social media…and the smartphone. The first smartphone launched in 2007, giving people the ability to connect instantly with the world, regardless of locale…AND record high quality video. Within a couple of years, the frequency of police brutality videos began to increase. The mantra of “it’s just a few bad apples” began to be debunked. With diligence and research, it’s near impossible to go a day without hearing of a civilian killed by police. Black Lives Matter is formed, becoming a focal point in a movement aimed at bringing light to a subject White America is either too scared, too cocky, or too guilty to face: Racism in America. The epidemic of mass incarceration for non-violent offenders becomes a national conversation. The fact that 33% of American Black men will be in jail gets noticed, while if you’re white you have a 5% chance in your lifetime. Blacks are also 2.5x more likely to be shot by police, despite still being a minority of the total population. Blacks make up 13% of the US population, and nearly 40% of its prisoner population. In other words, racism in America is still very much alive.
March 20th, 2017 and Donald Trump is America’s freshly elected 45th President. Mired in controversy and scandal, his unconventional “Twitter Heavy” version of “Presidential” is a shock to the masses. While still losing the general election by 3 million votes, the Electoral College process uplifted a man who ran on a mantra of “Make America Great Again” while spewing divisive rhetoric at Latinos, Muslims, and anyone that begged to differ with his point of view. Whether a handicapped journalist (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34930042), an empowered female (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33833516), or a former POW turned National Hero and Senator (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33599838), anyone that countered his views, his beliefs, his policy…was lambasted loudly and visibly for the world to see. And on this day, Donald Trump possibly ended the professional career of Colin Kaepernick. Prior to being elected, during his campaign, The Orange Tweetstorm made his opinion clear on Kaep. ““I think it’s personally not a good thing, I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try, it won’t happen.” In essence, he’s saying “If you don’t like black people being murdered and imprisoned by the thousands, GTFO!!” On March 20th, days after free agency began in the NFL and AFTER Kaepernick had noted that he would stand for the anthem, Trump said this:
“It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that. I said if I remember that one I’m gonna report it to the people of the Kentucky. Because they like it when people actually stand for the American flag.”
Here we have a President of the United States, taking credit for ending the career of an “Un-American” athlete that championed social justice and an end to police brutality. A man that donated millions of his own money to said causes. Spoken to an entity (the NFL) with 100% white ownership and 80%+ white executive level employees, you’re naïve to think that The Donald’s statement doesn’t cause a GM pause before calling Kaep’s agent. As an NFL GM, do you want to make that signing only to see a few hundred (or thousand) white people protesting your games with bright red MAGA ballcaps on? The answer is, plainly, no.
I did lunch with my son last Friday. After a thirty minute conversation touching on everything from acceptable 6th grade etiquette, Call of Duty, and “Cash Me Outside, How Bout Dah?” I asked him about Kaepernick and Trump. My son barely knew who Colin was…but is vehemently anti-Trump. Eh, I guess all of that down talk to Latinos and his awkward responses to anything “Blackish” showed my son at an early age how NOT to hold yourself in public. It then dawned to me…I would rather my son say “Dad, I’d like to be Colin Kaepernick” more than I would like him to say “Dad, I want to be President”. Yes, I want my son to be like Colin Kaepernick. Yes, Colin Kaepernick is a role model. He is also, arguably, the most polarizing athlete since Muhammad Ali. Like Kaepernick, Ali was vilified and burned in the public eye, labeled “unpatriotic” and a “traitor”. 40+ years later, Ali is roundly considered the most influential athlete of modern times and a pioneer for social justice. Is Kapernick Ali? No…Ali had the pedigree of a “GOAT” level professional career upon which to hang his mantle. Kaepernick is no Joe Montana. He’s no Jerry Rice. He’s no Tom Brady. But…he is, in my mind, more of a role model to my mixed son than all of those listed above. Joe, Jerry and Tom changed the game. Kaepernick is trying to change the world.
America’s 2016 election was, literally, a political race war. Loudmouthed white billionaire decries immigrants and Muslims while spewing lies about his opponent…and manages to win the highest seat of power in the world. America spoke loudly…and wickedly. Private prison stocks have risen 10-30% since Trump’s inauguration, a reaction to his stance on immigration and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions (also a known racist) noting that they will possibly pursue states that have legalized marijuana. What do the prospective victims for these two statements have in common? More melanin than Donald Trump. Is racism still alive in America? You’re naïve at best, blind to the realities in the middle…or a racist yourself if you think it’s gone and America presents a level playing field for all hues.
By Jason Figueroa