Bulletin: The San Francisco Police Officers Association, which always defends killer cops like the ones who fatally shot Mario Woods, a 26-year-old Black man 20 times in 2015, sent a letter Aug. 29 to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and 49ers CEO Jed York demanding that Colin Kaepernick publicly apologize for his comments on police brutality.
Aug. 29 — When Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two Black men, were murdered by police in Baton Rouge, La., and Minneapolis, Minn., respectively, in early July, a number of prominent Black athletes condemned these atrocities.
Members of the New York Liberty, Minnesota Lynx and other Women’s National Basketball Association teams wore Black Lives Matter pregame, warm-up shirts with Sterling and Castile’s names on them. They and their teams were threatened with fines until the WNBA hierarchy was pressured to rescind them due to overwhelming mass support.
Without a doubt, the most outspoken male athlete after these murders was Colin Kaepernick, a 28-year-old quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football League, who led his team to the Super Bowl in 2013.
Kaepernick stated on Instagram, along with the video of Sterling’s murder: “This is what lynchings look like in 2016! Another murder in the streets because [of the] color of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us. When will they be held accountable? Or did he fear for his life as he executed this man?”
During a 49ers’ preseason game with the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26, Kaepernick refused to stand during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. He told Steve Wyche from NFL.com: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” He specifically raised how the police are getting away with murder without any accountability. (usatoday.com, Aug. 27)
He went on to say,”This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
Kaepernick’s heroic action has caused a firestorm of horrific racist reaction on social media. Some 49ers’ fans posted on Twitter about burning Kaepernick’s jersey and called for his dismissal from the team. People are attacking his heritage: Kaepernick’s birth father is Black and his birth mother is white. Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee, where a recent rebellion took place against the police killing of Sylville Smith on Aug. 13.
In earlier political tweets, Kaepernick said, “In California, 73% of students are nonwhite, but only about 29% of teachers are nonwhite. Couple this with who constructs the textbooks.”
Before that post was removed, Kaepernick commented on the U.S. and Confederate flags: “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.” In an Aug. 28 interview on csnbayarea.com, Kaepernick accused Donald Trump of being racist and reminded the media that Hillary Clinton once called Black teenagers “super predators”.
In response to Kaepernick’s Aug. 26 act, both the NFL hierarchy and the 49ers’ owners issued similar statements defending his First Amendment right to either stand or not stand during the playing of the U.S. anthem.
But it’s important to take note that Kaepernick carried out his bold deed in the aftermath of the Rio Olympics where NBC and its affiliates showed over and over again U.S. athletes standing at attention with their hands over their hearts as the U.S. national anthem was played and the flag raised.
And let’s remember that Gabby Douglas, the African-American gymnast who won the 2012 individual all-around gold medal in London, was brutally criticized just for not putting her hand over her heart during the playing of U.S. anthem, after she and her teammates won the team all-around gold medal in Rio.
Kaepernick’s simple action was a symbolic, revolutionary one reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Kaepernick’s refusal also evokes U.S. track-and-field sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised black-gloved fists and bowed their heads to protest U.S. racism while the national anthem played during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. All three athletes suffered devastating losses in their livelihoods for many years due to racist demonization and ostracization.
Kaepernick could be facing a similar fate of losing his football career since he has not secured a permanent position as the starting quarterback for the 49ers’ upcoming season.
Conservatism and militarization of the NFL
The NFL is not only the most popular professional sport in the U.S., but the most reactionary in many ways. The average season ticket holder is overwhelmingly politically conservative, since NFL stadiums are located in more affluent, majority-white suburbs.
NFL players, who are nearly 70 percent African American, are viewed by these fans, who can afford very expensive tickets, as entertainers who should be seen but not heard, especially on social issues. Many of Kaepernick’s critics state he should not have any reason to speak out against injustice since he has made millions of dollars as a player and from endorsements.
They fail to point out that the average career of a NFL player is four years or less — much shorter on average than that of professional basketball, baseball or hockey players.
In fact, the sheer physical brutality of football, especially knee injuries and concussions, can easily be compared to military training. This is not all that ties the sport closely to U.S. militarism. The playing of the national anthem is featured at every U.S. game, often with a military color-guard entourage. U.S. fighter jets fly over the field to the roar of the crowd. Each NFL game is a constant reminder that the military-industrial complex has permeated every institution in capitalist society, including sports.
More than anything else, what Colin Kaepernick needs is solidarity from his fellow NFL players. Currently on Twitter, people are writing solidarity messages using #ISupportKaepernickBecause.
The fact that Kaepernick anticipated getting a hostile response, but did not allow it to deter him from his bold action, should help inspire and give courage to other NFL players both to defend him and, more importantly, to carry out similar actions in an organized way. In the meantime, Kaepernick has vowed to keep sitting “in order to stand with the people that are being oppressed.” (San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 29)
Moorehead is the 2016 Workers World Party presidential candidate. Lamont Lilly is her vice presidential running mate.