The Kaepernick Effect: Will More Black Athletes Answer The Call To Activism?
By Alexis Alex
Colin Kaepernick has proven himself to be a prolific quarterback, and yet he cannot get an NFL team to sign him to save his life. ESPN reported that the coaches and personnel of two NFL teams, the Baltimore Ravens and one unnamed team, desperately wanted to sign Kaepernick in his free agency but were blocked by their owners. There is no doubt that Kaepernick has been blackballed by the higher-ups of the NFL because of his protests, which sends the clear message that the NFL will not tolerate black athletes who choose to protest and express their political beliefs. But instead of backing down, the Kaepernick backlash has caused some black players to step up and follow his lead. Recently, veterans players Marshawn Lynch of the Raiders, Michael Bennett of the Seahawks, and Malcom Jenkins of the Eagles decided to protest during the national anthem in their preseason openers as well. In fact, Bennett has made it his mission to carry Kaepernick’s torch, “just because [Kaepernick’s] out of the league, we didn’t want to lose that message, pushing for liberty and equality for everybody. We just wanted to keep that message alive.” Now that other veteran players seem to be carrying on the protests, this may be the start of more black players across the league stepping up and protesting as well.
On the other hand, there are other black players in the league who have claimed they will never protest in fear of losing their jobs. Dallas Cowboys’ Dez Bryant expressed that he would never consider protesting because “he’s got a family to feed.”
As a result, this sets up a dilemma for black players in the NFL: protest for the cause or stay silent to avoid backlash? Yes, Dez Bryant I get it, if you lose your job, you risk losing your fame, fortune, and cozy lifestyle. But, when will black athletes realize the bigger picture? You have to be willing to risk something in order to stand up for what you believe in. But, the problem is many black athletes have settled for just being a player and a profitable image in the industry instead of using their power to help the black community.
Before integration in America, black athletes understood the importance of their role in representing the black community as talented, superior individuals who could compete with their white counterparts. Athletes like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos were not afraid to use their celebrity to promote a black agenda and improve the black community instead of just selfishly flaunting their success. The difference between athletes pre-integration and post integration is before black athletes understood their dual role as athletes and activists because they were representing the community during the fight for equality and freedom. Today, black athletes have forgotten that struggle of what their predecessors stood for and have dropped the activist role. Black athletes have become materialistic, selfish, and often push back from promoting any type of black agenda in fear of angering their white bosses and losing their fortune.
But today, this small wave of black athletes choosing to bringing back activism is now making the NFL a battling ground between black activism and white ownership. If all black players across the league would band together and protest, all of the owners’ hands would be tied because they cannot blackball all of them. Therefore, black NFL players need to learn their worth and realize the real power they hold in this dynamic.The NFL directly profits off of black bodies and losing all of them is not something the owners could afford. If the veteran players protesting now can encourage the majority of the black NFL players to channel their inner activists and protest as well, not even the owners would be able to stop them.