Colin Kaepernick has been in the news since 2016 when he singlehandedly began a nation-wide movement with a bend of the knee during the NFL National Anthem. He has since suffered incredible backlash and received incredible support from fans, strangers, and fellow players.
Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the anthem came only after a suggestion from Nate Boyer, former NFL player and US veteran, as his default choice was to sit instead of stand. Kaepernick wished to be respectful to US veterans, while still making a statement that the flag America stands for doesn’t protect all of its citizens equally. Kapernick’s kneeling followed a series of murders that brought on the Black Lives Matter Movement. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner being the more widely known, brought together blacks, whites, and people of all colors and backgrounds from all over the United States to rally for the lives of people of color and black men specifically.
Since kneeling during the anthem caught on, the participants have undergone threats to their careers and livelihoods, some brought to light that the NFL could force players to stand because of its status as a private organization, and players like Kaepernick have had greater difficulty playing the game for the actions they’ve taken to protest police violence.
The most recent controversy to stir the political and football mystery-meat stew is the Nike Boycott. From what I understand, as I’ve been hiding under a rock for months now, Kaepernick was chosen as a Nike spokesperson in an ad I literally can’t find a link to no matter how hard I try because of the amount of videos talking about the ad itself.
Nike’s “Just Do It” advertising has featured many athletes who persevere through pain, sweat, and tears to play the sport they love, and their recent choice to feature Kaepernick with the tagline, “Believe in Something, Even if it Means Sacrificing Everything,” lost them a three percent share price on the fourth of September. People who are outraged by the choice, as far as I can see, have several angles for their opinions:
- Nike is an everyman’s sports brand, and Kaepernick represents a somewhat niche campaign
- Nike has a huge share in professional athletics as far as advertising, publicity, etc. including visibility of their products and affiliation with the NFL, and their decision to support an athlete who has brought some heat to NFL lover’s faces doesn’t make sense to some
- It may seem as if Nike is attempting to profit from a “liberal” movement, and they don’t believe what they’re hawking
As a result of the boycott, Nike suffered a very real, but relatively minor loss of profits, and many Nike fans set fire to their products, vowing to never be a Nike patron again.
I’ve seen several comments on the behavior of the Nike-burners, and one of the most poignant came from a Facebook friend and her suggestion that if these people were unhappy with their clothes, their shoes, their sports apparel (whatever), they should have donated them to someone in need. To me, this adds a whole new layer of complexity to the controversy that so many items that people have the greatest need for, shoes being a major one, were publicly destroyed for Nike’s marketing choices.
By adding complexity, I mean that I truly wish I could relate to the people who are upset by Nike’s choice, who perhaps feel betrayed and isolated, maybe even abandoned during their fight to keep the National Anthem a respectful gesture, to keep America a proud and united nation. I think it’s possible that many people who burned their Nike products on social media didn’t think twice about doing it, and probably are very nice people who regret wasting the opportunity to serve someone in need instead of inflaming this divide between Americans with pictures of violence (machine guns pointed at piles of dirty shoes).
I have several loved ones who I believe fall on the divide opposite mine in this argument, who believe that Americans should stand regardless of the state of the nation, who have argued that thousands have died at home and abroad for their right to kneel, and it’s disrespectful to do so.
Today, it’s never been more clear to me that Kaepernick’s original gesture, the following onslaught of players in support, the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement…it’s here to stay, and hopefully here to change the world. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the black men who’ve received the most coverage after their deaths, and I shed quite a few tears over the death of Philando Castile, a cafeteria worker who was shot and killed in the front seat of his car with his girlfriend’s four year old child in the backseat.
Today, though, it’s even more real. The context for me is crisper than before with the loss of Botham Jean, a fellow Harding graduate who was shot and killed in his own apartment.
While the details surrounding the case are unclear, several things are non-negotiable: black man shot by white cop, black man was in his own home posing no threat to anyone, white cop is claiming she thought she was at her house.
Botham was known to my heart, and to many others’, for his gentleness, hopefulness, and joyfulness. He had a gorgeous, energetic singing voice that he brought to a dreary-eyed chapel audience many mornings while attending Harding or after his graduation. I personally remember the soulful hymns that he taught our largely Church of Christ student body to savor. We loved when Botham lead singing. We loved getting a taste of his joy.
I know and appreciate that many people see these movements in different ways. Everyone is trying to protect a right they hold dear or fend off threats to that right, but I can’t imagine that anyone can deny in 2018 that our world is broken, that racism is still real and thriving, and that gun violence and police violence are still out of control.
In 2016 when Kaepernick first kneeled, the world that watched in shock, split into huge, equally vocal groups that see the world differently. Kaepernick still kneels, and today I kneel with him in shock, horror, and sorrow.
Of course, as adults, we know the world isn’t fair, that life isn’t fair, but there’s nothing anyone can say to make this right. In times like this, it’s best to take a knee.
In honor of Botham and other black lives lost, kneeling is about striving for an America where black men don’t get shot in their own homes, nor choked to death on the sidewalk, nor killed in front of their children, nor blasted through the back.
In honor of Botham and other black lives lost, kneeling is about begging for peace and change, asking for an America that treats its claims of equality as seriously as it does its rights to bear arms.
In honor of Botham and other black lives lost, kneeling is about listening to the suffering and refusing to be complicit in the silencing of the orphaned, widowed, and murdered Americans.