The Decline of Black Athletes and Social Justice Protests

colin kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick is everything.

Colin Kaepernick will be everything.

Nothing is better than a person not ashamed or afraid to wholeheartedly stand up for their convictions and their community.

My only question is, why aren’t more athletes sitting with Kaepernick?

#ISitWithKaepernick

Anyone who knows me knows I passionately call for black athletes to use their voice and their platforms to call attention to problems plaguing the black community. Likewise, anyone who has been paying attention realizes that usually, I am woefully disappointed.

For years, I’ve watched as fans fill Tiger Stadium to capacity to cheer on black athletes, lsucatching, throwing, and running the football proudly draped in purple and gold, while matching confederate flags fly just outside the stadium. Every few years, various groups of black students protest the purple and gold confederate flags, but ultimately nothing comes of it. Imagine if those same black players scoring touchdowns, stood with the other black students and demanded the flag be banned from campus. It never happens. I don’t even expect it to happen anymore.

Woefully disappointed.

I’ve tried to justify LSU’s black athletes cycle of silence. Admittedly, they are college students with scholarships to protect and futures to think about. They are essentially employees of the universities for which they study and play. Then, Missouri happened.

When black football players took a stand against racism on the campus of the University of Missouri, I was excited, to say the least. I hoped other black athletes would realize the power they possess and harness it for more than putting points on a scoreboard. I hoped it was a sign of progression. I hoped it would spark changes that reached beyond just their campus.

Woefully disappointed.

Nevertheless, I still tend to hold professional athletes to a higher standard.

In fairness, although the response of professional black athletes has been less than robust, it hasn’t been nonexistent. At the Espys, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul, opened the show calling oust louist the system as “broken” while seeking understanding and solutions. Likewise, Baton Rouge’s own, Seimone Augustus, and three of her Minnesota Lynx teammates donned shirts reading “change starts with us,” and held a press conference calling for peaceful conversations concerning racial injustices. Also, several players for the (then) St. Louis Rams raised their hands in an act of solidarity with the protesters concerning the 2015 killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.
While these specific instances and several others are to be commended. Acts of true or continuing protest and outcry by a majority of our athletes have been few and far between.

When it comes to speaking about matters of social justice, I resist the urge to give professional athletes the same benefit of the doubt I have given collegiate athletes in the past. I understand that they are primarily dedicated to their craft. I understand that a great amount of focus is required to hone one’s craft to rise to the professional level. However, that does not absolve them of community responsibility.  I find it extremely selfish to either be so consumed with making money or so disconnected from their communities that they are able to turn their backs on the serious issues plaguing America. How is that even possible? How do you wrap yourself in your bank account and sleep at night while people are literally being shot in the streets by those sworn to protect and serve? How can you lock yourself away in neighborhoods surrounded by walls and ignore the carnage just outside the safety the gates?

It is even more maddening when an athlete misuses their platform to deny that racism is a problem in America. I’m looking at you Cam cam
Newton. For you to now fix your mouth to even suggest that America is somehow beyond racism, when mere months ago you were relentlessly called everything but a child of God; while acknowledging, at the time, that your skin color was likely the underlying cause of the venom and vitriol. Have ALL THE SEATS.

What makes this trend of silence and denial even more offensive is the realization that was not always the case.

Black athletes, previously, have been some of the most vocal and public critics of the chronic mistreatment of blacks in America.

With the death of the greatest, Muhammad Ali, in June 2016, media outlets fell over themselves reminding us all of his unmatched boxing accomplishments, but shone less light on the convictions that drove and empowered Ali. Muhammad Ali is the embodiment of putting it all on the line to stand firm on principles and protest racial injustices. In the newfound love of Ali, it is often glossed over that he was stripped of his Heavyweight title, convicted of draft evasion, fined and denied a boxing license in every state after he refused to enlist in the armed services for the Vietnam War. Ali famously said, “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother…And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.”

Jackie Robinson, foreshadowing the spirit that has inspired Colin Kaepernick, in his 1972 autobiography, wrote about his experience at the 1st game of the 1947 World Series, “the band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me…Today, as I look back…I must tell you…I was only a principal actor.” Finally finishing with, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”

tommieAnd everyone can identify the famous photo of track stars, Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics, atop the podium and defiantly raising their fists.

 

Historically, there seemed to be a tireless parade of black athletes ready and willing to speak and sacrifice for the plights of the black community. I’ve spotlighted some but there were others, including Jim Brown, Billie Jean King and Billy Russell.

Nothing that Colin Kaepernick did was unprecedented, although it has been reported as such. Kaepernick simply followed in the footsteps of the black athletes with voices and no fear that preceded him. Kaepernick used his constitutionally guaranteed right to protest injustices affecting his community. Kaepernick did exactly what he was supposed to do. I applaud ex-LSU star and fellow 49er, Eric Reid, and Seattle Seahawk, Jeremy Lane for joining the protest Kaepernick started.

As the NFL preseason comes to an end and the regular season begins, the question remains, why aren’t more athletes sitting with Kaepernick?

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