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When political resistance erupted throughout the country after Trump’s election, professional athletes were hardly expected to be catalysts for social change, or even on the front lines of protest. Back in the 1960s individual athletes expressed dissent – U.S. sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the All Power to the People salute from the 1968 Olympic podium in Mexico City. Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali rejected the draft because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. They paid a heavy price.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job with the NFL. However, the protest he began by kneeling during the national anthem at last season’s games keeps growing. A group of Black community leaders and pastors have announced an NFL “BlackOut” unless and until Colin Kaepernick is signed to play with an NFL team. They introduced their movement in a YouTube video.
When NFL owners look at out-of-work quarterback Johnny Manziel, they see themselves. Or at least they see their ne’er-do-well son or nephew: the one who was raised in cushy wealth, partied too hard, maybe got in a few legal misunderstandings with the girls, but deep down is a “good boy” and always worthy of a second chance. Playing ability isn’t even part of the conversation. They want him in their club. When NFL owners look at out-of-work NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, they see a threat.
When Philando Castile’s killer, Officer Jeronimo Yanez, was found not guilty on Friday – despite the fact that Castile’s murder was livestreamed on Facebook – shock immediately spread from the streets to social media. Some celebrities in the world of sports and entertainment used their expansive platforms to spread the message that a great injustice had occurred. They decried the fact that a man had been killed solely because of a police officer’s reaction to the color of his skin, and there would be no penalty for that killing.
Hope people are paying attention to what’s been going on with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the ostracizing that is happening to him via NFL owners. We are bearing witness to owners going all out to send a message that they hope will resonate not just with fellow NFL owners but to other CEOs who oversee increasingly “woke” people who are standing up and speaking out. Fast and hard lines in the sand are being drawn and the name of the game is make those who speak up pay dearly. We can’t return to the days where folks are comfortable and expect athletes and entertainers to simply shut up and play, sing or dance.