Football is a weird sport. Quarterbacks, nickel defenses, and dime defenses don’t actually have anything to do with money. The halfback lines up further back than the fullback. And sometimes, when a player takes a knee, he’s really taking a stand.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest of social inequality and racism caused an explosion of debate in the sport’s world about a month ago. Some vilified him for disrespecting a sacred anthem, while others defended his right to freely speak and protest. In all of this uproar, though, Kaepernick’s point was all but lost. We shouldn’t be attacking him, or even defending him: we should be listening to him.
According to The New York Times, in the year after Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri, more than 1,000 people died at the hands of police. According to a Vice News report, looking at the deaths proportional to each ethnic group’s population, black men and women were killed at a rate three times greater than that of white men and women, and more than twice as great as all other races combined. When you realize that this is just one example of inequality and racism in today’s America, it looks like Kaepernick picked a pretty important cause to protest.
If you want to see my answer as to whether Kaepernick’s method was “justified,” or “respectful,” don’t hold your breath: it’s not here. I’ve never served in the armed forces, or on a police force. I’m not going to pretend to have as deep an understanding of the flag and what it means than those men and women that have served our country. I’m also not going to pretend like I understand, firsthand, the prejudice and racism that minorities, especially blacks, have to face every day. I can throw some statistics on a page; that’s great. But reading an article or ten doesn’t give me the right to speak for an entire group of people.
What I can do is admire Kaepernick for speaking out, for using his platform to strive for change. I despise the phrase “stick to sports.” I hate hearing athletes and sports media members being told “Well, sports is what you know. You don’t know politics, or economics, so stick to sports.” No. As Americans, we all have a right, and sometimes an obligation, to speak our opinions. Our society places athletes on a pedestal, and that means they have a direct line to some of the largest groups in America: sports fans. Using that line to effect social change isn’t deplorable; if athletes ever want to change more than just game scores, it’s necessary.