On August 26th, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem for the first time. Kaepernick began his peaceful protest against the police brutality faced by African Americans in a manner that was guaranteed attention, something that was essential for his protest. This very reason that led Kaepernick to be essentially blacklisted from the NFL is being brought forth again with no credit to Kaepernick.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said during an NFL interview at the time. “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,”.
The backlash was immediate, but Kaepernick persisted and was later joined by different team players as the movement grew stronger. Twitter went into a frenzy, public figures even commented, but America couldn’t reach an agreement. One side commended the San Francisco quarterback for his boldness allowing a spotlight on hidden issues, while others were in disbelief at the brazen show of disrespect.
In 2017, one year after Kaepernick began kneeling, he became a free agent and no teams offered him a contract. The NFL claimed to stand during the National Anthem wasn’t required, but it became increasingly clear Kaepernick’s career was going to be harmed.
“Colin Kaepernick has as much chance of playing quarterback again in the NFL as a police officer would of being convicted of killing a black man,” reporter Jason Reid said for The Undefeated.
The NFL’s blatant disregard of Kaepernick didn’t come to a surprise to many, but their actions in January 2020 did.
During one of the most viewed American sporting events, the Super Bowl, the NFL featured an ad discussing police shooting in African American communities. Retired wide receiver Anquan Boldin re-enacted the death of his cousin Corey Jones caused by a police shooting.
Police brutality against African Americans is an incredibly important and current topic that requires an open dialogue for change to begin. For the NFL to restart that discussion is definitely a stepping stone for the league.
“Restarting” is the keyword here.
Kaepernick attempted to do the exact same thing in a more distinctive way four years earlier. Instead of standing behind Kaepernick’s decision or allowing him to continue his protest, he remained contract-less and the NFL fined players for following Kaepernick’s steps.
The NFL is drowning in hypocrisy at this point, the least they can do is acknowledge the difference Kaepernick was making, and give credit when it’s due. His snub could’ve occurred because the NFL wasn’t brave enough to recognize they weren’t on the right side of history and are taking this opportunity to correct mistakes.
This advertisement marks a shift in the NFL’s branding and hopefully takes the highlight on injustices further by fighting against domestic abuse, a very prevalent issue in the sport. Many football players like Ray McDonald and Ezekiel Elliot have been involved in domestic abuse cases but the NFL stood by them. With this addressing police brutality, validating these spousal abuse cases is the next step.
Previous errors in judgment can be made, but it’s important to identify said mistakes instead of brushing past them. Presumably, this is a new age for the NFL and they understand the real change their actions can lead to, and use that platform to spread awareness rather than shut down uncomfortable conversations.