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Standing With Kaep: Championing Athlete Platforms

A convergence between modern-day sports and colonial mindsets

By Jaime Vázquez | 1/6/18 12:50pm | Updated 1/6/18 2:48pm
Sherry Gui / American Word Magazine

Aug. 26, 2016 was a warm day in sunny San Francisco, and 49er fans were excited to see quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s pre-season debut under a new coach, Chip Kelly. Before the game, all fans could ask about was how Kaepernick would fit under Kelly’s spread offense.

Afterwards, many fans wondered whether they ever wanted to see Kaepernick in a 49ers uniform again. On the eve of the upcoming NFL season, Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in America. Since then, the landscape of the league shifted.

Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem evolved into a kneel down – which Kaepernick and long-snapper Nate Boyer agreed would be most respectful to military families – while generating a nationwide conversation.

When pressed with why Kaepernick “would disrespect America” so much, Kaepernick said, “I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand.”

Kaepernick was accused of holding blatant disrespect for the armed forces, and critics wished him to suffer from a horrendous injury while on the field. The most offending critique, and the one that rang loudest was simple: stick to sports.

With the ability to reinforce colonial attitudes resting on their shoulders, fans today are being given greater social responsibility to instead support athletes of color. Athletes like Kaepernick, Lebron James, Steph Curry and Marshawn Lynch have begun utilizing their platforms amongst fan-bases to highlight the struggles that communities of color face.

Yet, such athletes have found themselves in the midst of an identity complex – subordinated by oppressive structures, owners and people in positions of leadership who dismiss not only their voices, but the social narrative of racial inequality in America.

In the midst of the 2014 NBA playoffs, TMZ released an audio recording in which former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling angrily scoffed at his then-girlfriend V. Stiviano for “associating with black people” and posting photos with them on social media. After its release, many players and NBA legends scratched their heads, asking why Sterling was so opposed to interacting with people of color when he participated in a predominantly black sports league.

The conclusion: Sterling was invested in the NBA to profit from the talents and marketability of superstars like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. According to Sterling, talents such as theirs were not to be respected, admired, or inspirational; they were cash cows, and that was it.

It would not take long for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to force Sterling to resign as owner of the Clippers. The players on the Clippers did, however, construct their own silent protest at center court during a playoff game back in April 27, 2014 against the Golden State Warriors.

The players wore their uniforms inside out so the Clippers logo was not to be seen, and wore black socks and arm bands. The Clippers players protested in unity. The organization as a whole did not mind if fans protested the team with Sterling as owner – even if it meant snapping their 137 game sellout streak.

AU department chair of the Critical Race, Gender and Cultural Studies Collaborative Theresa Rundstedtler refutes the idea that sports is not a space for politics.

“It’s even political if you think about the fact that the professional leagues still majorly have white owners and white front offices,” Rundstedtler said. “Yet the labor force – the people who are actually on the field – are mostly black men. There is a politics to that as well.”

As America continues to become increasingly conscious about racial injustice, it is growing apparent that athlete voices are here to stay. What Kaepernick has started is a movement – and at a point in history when world leaders can censor black athletes protesting inequality in America faster than they can condemn white supremacists inciting violence – it becomes all the clearer why many more athletes are choosing to take a knee.