Colin Kaepernick is a communist.

Do I have your attention yet? Good.

Just recently Colin Kaepernick has been criticized for praising Fidel Castro and as a result everyone including Snoop Dogg has slammed him. I mean, you have to be pretty controversial to upset Snoop Dogg, right? I mean, c’mon, he has a cooking show with Martha Stewart!

Well unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three months, it’s doubtful you haven’t heard about Colin Kaepernick: praising Fidel Castro after his death, not voting in the federal election, and his infamous stand (or lack thereof) against the National Anthem. For months, it seems every article discussed; Kaepernick has been front line and center. He has been the controversial figure of good vs. evil, David vs. Goliath. People are either overjoyed that he has taken a stand and spoken for what he deems to be unfair and unjust; or people are sickened and burn his jersey- there’s not much of a middle ground here.

But it begs the question, is he a false prophet- as the media and others on the right tend to think he is? Or is he true in what he says- that the United States is still filled with hate and racism and still oppresses black people and people of color.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL.com after the game. “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.”

 History

To understand the framework here we have to take you back in time – way, way back… *Queue Star Wars intro music*

Kaepernick’s protest fits right into those legacies of Muhammad Ali opposing the Vietnam War, Boston Celtics center Bill Russell boycotting segregated facilities, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in a Black power salute on the medal stand in the 1968 Olympics. They too used their celebrity presence, achievements, prominence, and influence to speak up against important issues and used sport as their platform to do so.

This is not the first time athletes- specifically African-Americans- have been targeted and told they are not entitled to a voice.

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Source: Getty Images

It was not too long ago that the iconic boxer, Muhammad Ali, famously spoke up against and refused to fight in the Vietnam War in 1967 and was crucified for it.

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me n*****.” – Muhammad Ali

As a Muslim, he wanted no part in the war- “to take part in Christian wars” (Mitsui, 2016) and declined to be drafted as a result. For this, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight belt for years and the revenue earned from it. But what was most important in this was that he brought his own voice to the debate, bringing up larger issues of race, violence and new imperialism.

 Tommie Smith commented, “If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad they would say, a Negro” (Chow, 2014) Just like Ali, Carlos and Smith faced consequences for their actions. They were kicked out of the Olympic village and suspended from the American team. Not to mention that when they returned home from Mexico City, they were welcomed with death threats. Their defiance will forever be remembered in history, one that stood against oppression at the height of the civil rights struggle in America.

Bill Russell center for the Boston Celtics was a civil rights hero of his time as well. He stood against injustice and him and his black Celtic teammates boycotted a game after a restaurant in Lexington, Ky., refused to seat them. At that time, it was loud statement to make, when similarly black athletes were told they were “fortunate” and should look the other way.

That being said, Russell famously blasted the notion of activism in sports following race riots in American cites, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. He cited that there were more important issues than the game of basketball.

“We foolishly lionize athletes and make them heroes because they can hit a ball or catch one,” Russell said. “The only athletes we should bother with attaching any particular importance to are those like [Muhammad] Ali, whom we can admire for themselves and not for their incidental athletic abilities.” (Merlino, 2011)

It’s just Un-American!

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Source: Getty Images

Why do terms like “un-American” constantly spring up when hot topics like this arise? Why are athletes designated to “just throwing a ball”? And finally, why do people feel threatened when athletes do decide to voice their thoughts?

There is such pride and nationalism in America, un-passed by any other nation in the World; but it is not with fault. Because of this people cannot seem to differentiate between the politics and policies of a nation and the people living there in it.

To take fault in one does not mean taking fault in the other. A great example of this lies in the Black Matters Movement. Those that approve of the issues at hand and understand where these activists are coming from know that they are fighting for justice and equality. They are not against police or white people, yet many who oppose the group deem this as the truth.

The interesting thing to me (and irony) about Kaepernick refusing to stand during the star-spangled banner is how veterans got introduced into the mix. If you actually listen to what Kaepernick is saying, he doesn’t mention veterans or military personnel at all. Yet the reason people are so fired up about the issue is that they say he is Anti-Troops. You couldn’t be more un-American saying something like this to the world. Yet, despite not saying anything about veterans, he has the support of veterans and other athletes alike. Many military veterans are supporting his decision because they say that is what they fought for. “One said he served to protect freedoms, not a song.” (CBC, 2016)

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Source: The CBC

Perhaps this is as Foucault predicts in his social theory of biopolitics. In his theory, Foucault examines the mechanisms in which we as humans manage and process life. This deals with how that of authority over knowledge, power and processes of subjectification.

 Why It Matters that Kaepernick Is Speaking Out

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Source: ESPN

“Athletes influence extends beyond athletic admiration and can affect fans’ attitudes an beliefs.” (Melnick & Jackson, 2002).

No longer do athletes have to wait for the cameras to be on them or to win a gold medal in the Olympics for attention and focus to be on them to advocate social and political issues. Many athletes have taken to Twitter and Instagram to transmit their message to fans and sources within the media worldwide.

“While politically outspoken sports stars like Ali are normally reviled in their own time, and granted heroic status only retrospectively, it is also clear that political silence is seen as a fundamental failure among ‘‘modern athletes’’ who are believed to possess a profound capacity for change because of the broad sweep and appeal of their voice.” (Grano, 2009)

However, activism and speaking out is a double-edged sword in today’s media. You just can’t seem to be on the right side of it! Unless you are Lebron James and in Ohio, then you can pretty much do anything. That man resurrected that city!

Many other athletes have been criticized for not speaking out. Look no further than to great of all time, Michael Jordan. There no better poster-child for pure competitive capitalism than the man who has ice in his veins, nailing a game winning jump shot with less than a minute on the time clock in game six of the NBA finals. He has constantly refused or declined to take part in the dialogue of activism- daring to sacrifice all that he built. He was successful in dodging the political arena, and yet people still praise him as a prophet. When asked why he doesn’t participate, Jordan said this, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

Golf’s saviour and bi-racial athlete, Tiger Woods is also an example of abstinence from the political arena. For the man that brought excitement, joy, and new fans to an old game, he made sure to say nothing political at all.

High-profile   athletes are often criticized by the public for refusing to make statements in regards to politics. Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are notorious for dodging the political arena like Muhammad Ali used to dodge punches. Unlike Ali, they stand only for the mighty dollar. (Richards, 2008)

 Conclusion

 So if you are still with me and I haven’t lost you yet, here it all is, wrapped nice and neatly (which is what a conclusion is designed for). It doesn’t take much to realize that there are more important factors and players involved in this discourse about player activism. Athletes have long been chained by large contracts and sponsorship deals by billionaires that have mass amounts of power behind them, this in effect restricts and discourages many from speaking out. And when athletes do speak out, it is often questioned for their timing. Many fans and people within the media have said, “Seems convenient for him (or her) to say that now!” Does it though? Is there ever a convenient time to speak out against murder, injustice and wrongdoing to a group of people? These are questions that at times, I just sit back and shake my head, in complete disbelief.

Large frameworks have been set in motion far longer than Kaepernick ever tossed a pigskin on 120 yards of artificial turf. And even today, the media uses inferential racism and word neutrality to disguise their true meaning. Successful politicians run their campaigns on this, laws are passed with wide acceptance because of this: it is a common thread today. The underlying ideology in all this is the possessive investment in whiteness that America (and the rest of the World) holds dearly. We continue to look at these athletes that have transcended from nothing to pure stardom, often overnight, that continue to break barriers on and off the court, looking to them on how to act and even how to jam out (here’s looking at you Beckham Jr.) But, all that goes out the window as soon as they speak what’s in their hearts- specifically to with anything that doesn’t tow the line.

Why is it that athletes like Kaepernick are aloud to be present in movements that support groups and causes- but only select ones? Why do fans cheer them on when they wear custom shoes supporting Breast Cancer and dedicate games to lost loved ones? Do black people not fall within these realms? Do they too, not deserve a voice? Do they not deserve a shout out during a game?

It was not too long ago, people who looked like Kaepernick were also brought to their knees- only they were not speaking out against injustice and called athletes, they were called “slaves.”

 Written By: Anthony Leo

References

August 31st, 2016. Colin Kaepernick saluted by some military veterans. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/sports/football/nfl/colin-kaepernick-support-military-veterans-1.3742515

Chow, K. (2014). A brief history of racial protest in sports. National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/12/02/367766230/a-brief-history-of-racial-protest-in-sports

Corrigan, T. F. (2014). The Political Economy of Sports and New Media. In A.C. Billings & M. Hardin (eds.). Routledge Handbook of Sport and New Media (pp.43-54). New York: Routledge.

Dolloff, M. (2016, October 25). Colin Kaepernick Doesn’t Get Why His National Anthem Protests Would Hurt NFL Ratings. Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://boston.cbslocal.com/2016/10/25/colin-kaepernick-doesnt-get-why-his-national-anthem-protests-would-hurt-nfl-ratings/

Grano, D. (2009). Muhammad Ali Versus the ‘‘Modern Athlete’’: On Voice in Mediated Sports Culture. Critical Studies in Media Communication. Vol. 26 (3) 191-211, August 2009.

Harris, K., & Barrett, T. (2016, October, 26). Text to Text | Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem Protest and Frederick Douglass’s ‘What to the Slave is the 4th of July?. Retrieved from October 28, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/learning/lesson-plans/text-to-text-colin-kaepernicks-national-anthem-protest-and-frederick-douglasss-what-to-the-slave-is-the-4th-of-july.html?_r=0

Kevin Hylton & Stefan Lawrence (2015) Reading Ronaldo: contingent whiteness in the football media, Soccer & Society, 16:5-6, 765-782, DOI: 10.1080/14660970.2014.963310

Merlino, D. (2011). Bill Russell, Civil Rights Hero and Inventor of Airborne Basketball. Bleacher Report. Retrieved from http://bleacherreport.com/articles/682589-bill-russell-civil-rights-hero-and-inventor-of-airborne-basketball

Mitsui, E. (2016). Colin Kaepernick’s protest part of a long-standing sports tradition.  Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/multimedia/colin-kaepernick-s-protest-part-of-a-long-sports-tradition-1.3758443

Lipsitz, George. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. 1-23.

Schmittel, A & Sanderson, J. (2015). Talking About Trayvon in 140 Characters: Exploring NFL Players’ Tweets About the George Zimmerman Verdict. Journal of Sports and Social Issues, Vol. 39.

Tompkins, Joe (2015) A Postgame Interview for the Ages”: Richard Sherman and the Dialectical Rhetoric of Racial Neoliberalism. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 2016, Vol. 40(4) 291–314, DOI: 10.1177/0193723515615180

Vasilogambros, M. (2016). When athletes take a political stand. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/07/when-athletes-take-political-stands/490967/

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