Black lives matter to the NFL only after Trump attacks league

Let’s not forget why Colin Kaepernick first took a knee

Graphic by Evan Tremblay.

The American national anthem has been the cause of a lot of discussion in recent weeks.

In case you live under a rock, a short synopsis: On Aug. 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers then-quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the American national anthem prior to the start of a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” Kaeprnick told reporters 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.

“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed […] If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

I was of the opinion last year that Kaepernick needed to find another avenue outside sports to protest. I was foolish in thinking that sports and politics should remain separate, as if they were two different animals. I have learned otherwise, and accepted that sports and politics are intrinsically woven together.

That sit-down back in August 2016 started a movement. Kaepernick eventually took to kneeling during the anthem, and that saw other NFLers, such as Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, follow suit in protest of racial injustice experienced by black citizens in the U.S.

The 11 players who knelt during the anthem in Week 1 of the current season caused President Donald Trump to speak out at a rally nearly two weeks ago:

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

This sparked a response from the NFL the following Sunday. The Pittsburgh Steelers refused to come out of the locker room for the anthem, while countless other teams knelt or locked arms in “solidarity.” Solidarity against what? Trump? This is defeating the purpose of why Kaepernick started this protest over a year ago.

Owners of NFL teams who donated to Trump’s campaign were seen on the sidelines kneeling or locking arms with their players. These are the same owners holding Kaepernick out of a job for doing the very same thing. Why did we not see 49ers owner Jed York out on the sidelines kneeling with Kaepernick back in 2016?

Trump has said a lot of jaw dropping things, far too many to list here, and frankly, you’ve probably heard them all. I will say this, however: sadly, what Trump called NFL players on Sept. 22 doesn’t top the list of being the most outrageous.

NFL owners have so far been okay with all the groups and people Trump has gone after, but going after the NFL crossed the proverbial line.

It has suddenly become “cool” to #TakeAKnee, a hashtag littering social media in the aftermath of the comments made by Trump.

This protest was not meant to be some sort of trend on social media. It was supposed to be a movement in social justice.

On the latest cover of Sports Illustrated, one can see a handful of athletes with the title “A nation divided, sports united.” The interesting thing about this cover: no Kaepernick.

The cover features LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Candace Parker, Bruce Maxwell, Aaron Rodgers, Cameron Jordan, and Bennett, alongside Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

As mentioned previously, Bennett has been kneeling since long before it became cool to kneel. Kerr and Maxwell have also spoken out against police brutality and racial injustices in the U.S. But Khan is one of the owners who donated $1 million dollars to Trump’s presidential campaign. Why put these figures on the cover and not Kaepernick?

“In some ways, even though his picture is not there, Colin Kaepernick is there,” executive editor of Sports Illustrated Stephen Cannella said in a video posted to their website. “I think what we’re trying to capture with this cover is the new voices that emerged this weekend, this debate, this protest evolved beyond Colin Kaepernick. We all know Colin Kaepernick stands behind this movement.”

This is a poor explanation. Why leave out the man who started this all?

Kaepernick opened this uncomfortable dialogue that has white people squirming. Let’s please not forget why this protest started: not because Trump attacked the NFL, not to protest the flag or the American military, but to stand up for racial injustice.

Erasing Kaepernick’s image from media portrayals of this protest ignores that crucial point.