Kaepernick’s Tragic Vindication

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARTIN SCHOELLER
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On August 26, 2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was first observed sitting during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. People accused him of disrespecting the military, being unpatriotic, creating division – with the 45th POTUS indirectly referring to him as a “son of a b****.”

Colin Kaepernick kneels before the national anthem in 2016. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Back in 2016, I argued that Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality is every bit as patriotic as the Boston Massacre. If more Americans, especially White evangelicals and the politicians they rally around, would have seen it as such, then much of what we’re seeing today could have been averted.

On August 26, 2020, the Milwaukee Bucks sent shockwaves throughout the sports world by opting to sit-out their scheduled NBA playoff game. Why? Because Kap was right and America refused to acknowledge it and make the necessary changes.

2020, The Number – Another Summer

Protests against police brutality went global in the summer of 2020 as the world watched the televised murder of George Floyd by the enforcers of American law and order. The global audience was appalled at the militarized policing in Black neighborhoods and high incarceration rates in the land of the free. That wave of protests even saw some politicians and police kneel in solidarity, yet unnecessary beatings, tasing, and shootings persist.

Members of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics kneel around a Black Lives Matter logo before the start of an NBA basketball game Friday, July 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)

Now, with a high profile incident less than an hour away from where the Bucks play their home games, they were convicted that the moment was bigger than basketball. The social justice slogans on the courts and their jerseys while playing in the NBA bubble wasn’t enough this time. They had to make a statement – not just of words, but action. A playoff team boycotting their own playoff game? By silencing all distractions, they made an initial statement that seems to prepare the way for more:

“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.”

Does that sound like anti-police? Or anti-law and order? That’s simply applying law and order to lawmakers and law enforcement. That’s applying high standards to public servants, just as there are high standards for professional athletes. After every game, athletes and coaches are alternately praised and dissected by analysts and fans. If ball handlers face daily scrutiny, what about people who are entrusted to handle issues of life and death?

How much more unity is needed?

One of the criticisms against Kaepernick was that he should’ve somehow gotten more of his teammates to join his demonstration. The argument was that it would have been so much more unifying and sent a more powerful message to see the whole team speak to the issues he was passionate about. Here we are 4 years later with NBA and WNBA teams having knelt for the anthem in protest. We have entire teams across a variety of sports boycotting and drawing attention to the same thing Kap knelt about 4 years ago. How much more unity among athletes and coaches does there need to be?

Grieving families are pleading for protests to remain peaceful as activists agitate for police accountability and criminal justice reform. Most of those grieving from and those fearful of police brutality are not rioting. We are prayerfully singing our own renditions of 12-year-old Keedron Bryant’s song: “My people don’t want no trouble… I just want to live. God protect me. I just want to live.”

Is America ready yet?

So often it seems our lyrics are lost on a segment of society that is quietly complicit with the precipitating events that lead to protests. They save their outrage for when fear and frustration over police brutality and unequal justice in the courts boil over into violence or property destruction. Then they revive the familiar call and response of law and order – advocating a type of policing that they would take up arms against if it happened to them.

Is America finally willing to respond to peaceful protest or is there something about her revolutionary past that only responds to revolutionary action? Hopefully, prayerfully, creatively, and peacefully, the nation will prove the urban poet, Propaganda, wrong when he cynically observes:

“No one’ll care until someone tosses a molotov in the air.”

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