by Ann Garrison
On Aug. 30, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick posted birthday wishes to Fred Hampton with Hampton’s picture and a quotation of something he said: “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.”
The 49ers played the Chicago Bears last year on Dec. 4, 2016, the anniversary of Hampton’s assassination by a tactical unit of state, city and federal officers. Kaepernick wore a Fred Hampton T-shirt to the postgame press conference, where reporters asked whether he would continue to kneel during the national anthem to protest police violence and oppression in the Black community. He responded:
“Yeah, I will continue to do it. There are a lot of issues that still need to be addressed, and I do think there is significance in being here today, seeing that it is the anniversary of the assassination of Chairman Fred Hampton. Being in Chicago, being able to acknowledge a Black figure, a Black leader like him, is very important. His role in being a leader in this community and bringing this community together is something that needs to be acknowledged.”
In other postgame press conferences, he appeared wearing T-shirts bearing images of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. In Miami, he even sported a Fidel Castro T-shirt, guaranteeing that the Miami Dolphins wouldn’t sign him this year. When asked why, he said that he believed in the investment in education that Castro prioritized.
The Dolphins ultimately signed a quarterback with a much less impressive record and, at the end of August, Kaepernick still didn’t have a job with the NFL. Some sportswriters said he was a perfect fit for the Arizona Cardinals, but the Cardinals signed Blaine Gabbert instead. Gabbert was the 49ers backup quarterback last year while Kaepernick started.
NFL team owners can’t credibly claim that Colin Kaepernick offended their patriotism when he took a knee during the national anthem last year to protest police brutality and other forms of oppression in the Black community. In 2015, an oversight report authored by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake revealed that the Pentagon, to promote the armed services and enhance recruiting, had paid professional sports teams millions of taxpayer dollars for patriotic displays during the games, with the largest share by far going to NFL teams.
The displays included National Guard flag runners to lead players out of the tunnel onto the field, color guard ceremonies, Salute to Service military appreciation game days, military appreciation games and tickets to attend them, recognition of one National Guard soldier as the soldier of the game at each home game, “into battle ceremonies” before kickoff, and an opportunity for 80 National Guard soldiers to hold a large American flag stretched across the field. At the 2017 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a Stealth Bomber flew over the the stadium after the national anthem.
The owners are clearly worried about their profit margins; in a comic moment, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens said he was so worried that he asked fans to pray for him as he considered signing Kaepernick. Ultimately, he and the other owners all seem to have calculated that the number of fans who might boycott the NFL because Kaepernick’s protest offended them would be greater than those now planning to do so because he inspired them. Kaepernick supporters are planning rallies outside every stadium in the country for each team’s opening game in the regular season,
The NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick isn’t stopping other NFL players, 70 percent of whom are Black, from protesting during the national anthem. It’s made them more determined. So has the extreme right’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville which led to the death of Heather Heyer when a young Neo-Nazi slammed on the gas and drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters.
SF 49ers safety Eric Reid knelt during the national anthem with Colin Kaepernick and linebacker Eli Harold last season, but said he didn’t plan to continue the protest this year and would concentrate on his game instead. He’s apparently changed his mind, because he knelt during the anthem in the 49ers preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Aug. 28, even though none of the rest of the 49ers joined him. Reid played college football for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
The NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick isn’t stopping other NFL players, 70 percent of whom are Black, from protesting during the national anthem. It’s made them more determined.
Sports Illustrated published this complete list of protesting players that added up to 25, or 55 if the 30 Cleveland Browns who locked arms during the anthem are counted as well:
- Marshawn Lynch, Raiders (sat during the anthem)
- Michael Bennett, Seahawks (sat)
- Cliff Avril, Seahawks (sat)
- Seth DeValve, Browns (knelt)
- Duke Johnson Jr., Browns (knelt)
- Terrance Magee, Browns (knelt)
- Isaiah Crowell, Browns (knelt)
- Kenny Britt, Browns (knelt)
- Ricardo Louis, Browns (knelt)
- Jabrill Peppers, Browns (knelt)
- Calvin Pryor, Browns (knelt)
- Jamar Taylor, Browns (knelt)
- Christian Kirksey, Browns (knelt)
- Jamie Collins, Browns (knelt)
- Ron Brooks, Eagles (knelt)
- Shalom Luani, Raiders (knelt)
- Eric Reid, 49ers (knelt)
- Cameron Jefferson, Bills (raised fist)
- Malcolm Jenkins, Eagles (raised fist)
- Jurrell Casey, Titans (raised fist)
- Wesley Woodyard, Titans (raised fist)
- Robert Quinn, Rams (raised fist)
- Jeremy Lane, Seahawks (stood with his back to the field and flag)
- Chris Long, Eagles (put his hand on teammate Malcolm Jenkins’s shoulder)
- Derek Carr, Raiders (put his hand on teammate Khalil Mack’s shoulder)
- Justin Britt, Raiders (put his hand on teammate Michael Bennett’s shoulder)
- DeShone Kizer, Browns (put his hand on teammate’s shoulder)
- Britton Colquitt, Browns (put his hand on teammate’s shoulder)
- Rodney McLeod, Eagles (put his hand on Malcolm Jenkins’s shoulder)
- Other Browns players, such as Jason McCourty and Shon Coleman, stood near the group of kneeling players on Monday night in an apparent show of support.
- About 30 Browns players stood with their arms linked together before their game against the Buccaneers.
On Aug. 23, several thousand people showed up for a rally outside NFL headquarters in New York City. One of the most moving speakers there was New York City activist Tamika Mallory:
“They say, ‘Well, people get dropped from teams all the time. People don’t get picked up all the time.’ That’s what they say. But those who are saying that to you are confused. They have decided to ignore racism, bigotry and white supremacy in this country. That is what they would have you do, to turn your eyes from what you see.
“We are not stupid, brothers and sisters. Don’t let them tell you that we are out here for one man. I like Colin Kaepernick. I think he is a good dude. I’ve seen him, I’ve talked to him, I’ve met with him. I think Colin Kaepernick is wonderful, but I didn’t come out here today for one man. Even Colin Kaepernick would tell you that he didn’t just kneel for himself or his family. He kneeled for all of us. Colin Kaepernick took a knee for my 18-year-old son, and that is why I am here today.”
“While I honor Colin for his stand, I am not boycotting the NFL because he was railroaded, as tragic as that is. I am boycotting the NFL because it is an organization that can only exist through the overwhelming utilization of Black and minority people, and yet it does not honor those real lives nearly as much as it “honors” a symbolic flag.
“Symbols are powerful. The flag is powerful. Colin as a symbol is powerful. The loss of the lives of citizens who have not been convicted of a crime is powerful, but also an actuality. They are who I will honor. I choose to honor them in a variety of ways, up to and including boycotting my favorite American sport.”
Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.