By Beth Kwiatek
It has been one year since then-San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial oppression. At that time he said he couldn’t stand to see another Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott or Eric Garner. Since then a contentious debate has broken out.
Those against Kaepernick argue, “Football is a form of entertainment and people should just be able to relax and enjoy the game.” Those in support of Kaepernick say, “Professional athletes should use their positions of power to speak out against injustice.”
Buffalo News sports columnist Bucky Gleason added his two cents. He wrote, “The last thing an NFL owner wants is an average player … creating controversy over something that has nothing to do with football.” Since when is football a politics-free zone? Apparently the irony of patriotic, nationalistic and militaristic pregame activities is lost to some.
Gleason and the NFL elite do what the powerful do: make excuses as to why they do not take a moral stand against racial injustice.
They deflect, evade, compartmentalize or lay blame. “It’s a distraction to the game.” “He’ll draw unwanted attention.” “Kaepernick can’t help the team win.” “We need to consider how sponsors and top-dollar ticket buyers might react.”
The NFL often turns a blind eye to criminal behavior by its players. Yet, when a talented player exercises his right to free speech to protest racial institutional violence, he is punished. Would there be an issue if Kaepernick were kneeling to protest animal abuse? Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennet said, “Race and politics in sports is something people don’t want to hear about.” Meanwhile, the NFL ignores the fact that many of their coaches, players and fans are African-American.
This is the crux of white privilege: not only to decide what is and what is not racism, but to tell black people where, and when, and how they can protest. Exactly where and when would white people like black people to protest?
It has been one year since Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stand with people who are being oppressed. Kaepernick will stand for the flag when the “liberty and justice for all” includes those Americans who don’t fit into the “all” category. Since last year white supremacist groups and hate crimes against minorities have been on the rise. In Virginia, Heather Heyer, a white anti-racism activist, was killed by a Neo-Nazi at a white nationalist rally.
Why is it so hard for white people to stand with our black and brown brothers and sisters?
It has taken one full year for a white player to kneel in solidarity. One has to ask, “Is it because a white woman was killed that people are finally paying attention?”
Beth Kwiatek is a freelance writer and anti-racism activist in the City of Buffalo.