Black athletes’ protests have gone prime-time. Colin Kaepernick is making his fellow Americans think about what they’re standing for, and why.
In a show of patriotism in a ballroom at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Town Hall Meeting, attendees made it their business to sing the national anthem like they were in Yankee Stadium. These actions bring to the fore several questions (Why not “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the unofficial black anthem?), mainly whether these “politically correct” blacks were just trying to publicly compensate for Kaepernick, who has been widely ridiculed in mainstream media as an ignorant, attention-seeking, washed-up millionaire quarterback.
Kaepernick’s is a story for the ages. Before he refused to stand for the national anthem, Kaepernick’s number 7 jersey was the 20th-best seller among 49ers. His jersey is now the top seller of all NFL players. In a recent press conference, Kaepernick, who has a six-year, $114 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, pledged $1 million to community groups.
But as commendable — or deplorable, depending on your stance — as his actions are, he isn’t an anomaly. Many black athletes, past and present, have been at the forefront of social and political dissent — from LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and other NBA players donned hoodies to protest the death of Trayvon Martin, to five black St. Louis Rams who showed their concern about the death of Michael Brown by jogging onto the field in the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that defined the Ferguson movement. Their actions drew criticism from the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which demanded the NFL discipline the players (the league didn’t).
And all the way back to 1968, when two American athletes at the Mexico City Olympic Games stepped onto the winner’s podium, shoeless but decked out in black socks and gloves. Tommie Smith and John Carlos — gold and bronze medalists in the 200 meter dash — raised their fists above their heads, protesting the nation’s discrimination against blacks.
The black pair’s protest was encouraged at the time by sociologist Harry Edwards, then a professor at San Jose State University and creator of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. A Bay Area legend, Edwards gained fame at the University of California-Berkeley for his work regarding race relations, the sociology of sport and family.
Edwards, who himself was a student-athlete as a discus thrower at San Jose State, authored “The Revolt of the Black Athlete” and in the late 1960s called on black athletes to boycott ”blue-eyed devils’ games.” In present times, the former Black Panther and student of Malcolm X has served as a staff consultant to the San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors basketball team. In an affirmative action sports program that proved to be highly effective, Edwards identified and recruited blacks for front office positions in major league baseball for then-Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
When figuring out the movement’s next step, Edwards would be a good place to start. He’s the type of motivational speaker black churches and clubs should engage in lieu of black career politicians.
But though it’s essentially a bunch of rich people leading the cause, the rebellion isn’t about money, nor did it start with Kaepernick. It shouldn’t end with him, either.
As Edwards told Time magazine, “We must teach our children to dream with their eyes open.”
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.