Earl Ofari Hutchinson
To former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick if it takes a promise to stand for the national anthem to get a try-out with an NFL team, make it. I say that as one that from the moment Kap took a knee, and stayed on his knee, game after game, I backed his right to take that knee. I backed him because his protest against racism and the gunning down of unarmed Blacks by the police was the right and courageous thing to do. His courageous stance rammed the issue of police abuse home hard in national politics and even more importantly in the hallowed, and near sacrosanct world of pro sports. He forced players, coaches, managers, and team owners to do a mild soul search at times kicking and screaming about racial injustice both within and without the sports world. Kap paid a horrendous price for his bold knee down. He was pilloried, hectored, and harangued by many sportswriter-broadcaster jocks. He was assailed by many fans. He was ultimately blackballed. But he didn’t buckle.
Kap, more than any other athlete since Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing for his protest over the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, paid the hard price for his stance. So, he owes no one, starting with himself, any apology for agreeing to say “yes” to a pro team, “I will stand for the anthem.” He loses nothing by saying and doing that. He has more than made his point. He will continue to win the thanks and deep accolades of those whose spine he stiffened in the sports world and spoke out against racial injustice.
However, there are two brutal realities Kap faces. One is that he is still first and foremost a pro football player. This is his livelihood. He still has some productive years left in the game. He has the chance to cash in on his ability during those years. This doesn’t mean that he can’t, won’t and shouldn’t continue to speak out loudly and passionately on the issue of racism. It certainly doesn’t mean that he won’t stop giving the tens of thousands of dollars that he has given to youth and social justice organizations. He will. He will also continue to be a symbol for legions of a Black pro athletes that took a stand for justice and backed that up with his deeds.
The other is that he plays in the pro sport that is the most rigid, quasi-military discipline, my way or the highway, pro sport run by some of the most conservative rich white guys on the planet. They are mostly conservative Republicans, some very outspoken Republicans. They have contributed money, lots of it, to Trump and other GOP presidential candidates over the years.
The NFL is not just in the business of paying salutes out of history and tradition and patriotic loyalty to the military and the flag. It’s also in the business, literally, of promoting both. It has a lucrative partnership with USA Football, Inc. which licenses and sells millions of NFL apparel and paraphernalia that carry the NFL logo and uniform designs through the NFL FLAG program. NFL FLAG also sponsors and promotes youth training camps, and football related sports programs.
Then there’s the NFL’s majority fan base. They have made it clear in informal polls, surveys, and by raining loud boos down on the relative handful of NFL players that have knelt during the national anthem that they will have no regard for any player who “disrespects” the flag. They don’t want that player in the league, and the owners have heard them. They listened to them because these fans are the ones who pack stadiums and plop down tens of millions for tickets and assorted NFL paraphernalia.
They made it abundantly clear by slamming the door tightly on Kap for more than a year that he will never play in their league if he continues his protest. Some have made it clear by shunning him that even if agreed to stand for the anthem he’s still persona non grata. The NFL owners have the absolute power to make sure that the door stays firmly closed to him play by their rule, or not. And one of their main rules that must be rigidly adhered to is their faux patriotism
Also, there are millions of Blacks who do stand for the national anthem. Most know the brutal history of racial violence, exclusion, and poverty that trapped and still traps countless numbers of Blacks. They watch and read almost daily of the police killings of mostly unarmed Blacks, the mass incarceration numbers for blacks, the grim figures on job and housing discrimination, the gaping health care disparities, and the endless other big and small racial insults and indignities. But they still stand for the national anthem because they also see that at least the ideal, the hypocrisy aside, it stands for, freedom and democracy, are precious ideals.
So, Kap promise to stand for the anthem. At least that way you don’t give them one more excuse to keep you blackballed. You’ve more than paid your dues and earned the right to play again.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming Why Blacks Lives Don’t Matter (Middle Passage Press) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.