Colin Kaepernick. Former San Francisco 49er quarterback, adoptee of two white parents from Wisconsin and the biggest social activist in sport.
As early as 2012, Colin Kaepernick turned heads as he assumed the position of number one quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. During this period, Kaepernick was highly regarded by head coach Jim Harbaugh, who brought Colin as a replacement for longtime starter Alex Smith. Initially considered a controversial move, Kaepernick went on to silence the critics by rushing 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers, setting a new NFL single-game record for a quarterback. He then went on to lead the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Kaepernick’s performance in the 2012-13 postseason garnered him well-deserved notoriety and publicity. In 2013, he was awarded an ESPY for ‘Best Breakthrough Athlete’.
Colin Kaepernick accepts the award for Best Breakthrough Athlete onstage at The 2013 ESPY Awards (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for ESPY)
Fast forward to 2017, Kaepernick’s name is affiliated with a different sort of hype. And now the critics have conjured up a much bigger ruckus. Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem resulted in the talented athlete losing his job and consequently being ‘blackballed’ from the NFL. Over the last couple months, Kaepernick’s critics managed to twist the player’s narrative and mislead the masses into thinking that this was a shot at American patriotism.
In an arena where such issues are rarely spoken about, Kaepernick has forced us to reflect on the significance of race within the sporting world. In an organisation where 68% of its employees are of African-American heritage, the NFL supersedes any diversity quotas set by the majority of modern-day corporations. However, the initial reaction of its predominantly white-male owners suggests a reluctance to initiate real change. August 27th, 2016 was the first moment when Kaepernick sat down for the national anthem. 8 months later he leaves the 49ers , after ‘voluntarily‘ opting out of his contract. It took 14 months, amidst the slaying of black teens throughout the U.S., for NFL GM’s to show solidarity with Colin and fellow players who took the knee. Sadly, the catalyst for this action was the vulgar statements made by an ill-mannered and ill-tempered president. The displaying of solidarity at this point in time, causes one to re-evaluate the motivations of those NFL owners.
Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) ORG XMIT: FXN
Kaepernick’s actions spoke strongly to the millions of African-Americans, who for generations, have been subjected to the ills of institutional racism. Kaepernick’s protest was a brave attempt to shed light on these issues. Instead, the likes of Donald Trump attempted to reduce Kaepernick’s actions to a mere attack on the U.S. national flag. This within itself, showed the President’s reluctance to face the harsh realities of his country’s past and have an honest conversation about racial tensions that have riddled the country since its inception.
Now, handed the ACLU ‘Courageous Advocate’ Award and nominated as a finalist for TIME’s person of the year, it appears that Kaepernick is getting the positive recognition he deserves. However, it is important that this discussion, which was amplified 2017, continues to feature prominently in 2018. Kaepernick’s protest opened the floor for further dialogue on racial tensions across the Western hemisphere. A conversation which is yet to be properly had.