Kaep uses his platform to help the voiceless
by Liam Gibbons
Staff Man for Others
I stand with Colin Kaepernick in his protest of the American national anthem. I have stood with him since 2016 when he first sat then knelt to draw attention to systemic racial injustice and police brutality in the US against people of color dating back hundreds of years. The NFL quoted him then saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Overall, this is an admirable statement. Athletes should be lauded for using their public platform to draw attention to issues about which they are passionate, especially those involving civil rights and social justice.
Kaepernick’s individual protest spread throughout the sports world, first as players on other professional football teams joined in, either kneeling or raising fists throughout the pre-season and opening weeks of the 2016 season. As the protest gained steam, its intersectionality increased, as people of different ages, genders, and economic statuses joined the movement. Athletes of all kinds got involved, including high school players in Seattle and Sacramento, cheerleaders at Howard University, and Megan Rapinoe, a former member of the Women’s US national soccer team. Numerous NBA players voiced their support of Kaepernick, including Lebron James. WNBA players knelt with locked arms before a playoff game.
But like Muhammad Ali before him in his protests of the Vietnam War, Kaepernick has been a figure of much public scrutiny and debate since the controversy started. From the onset, Kaepernick’s protest was formed with the intention of bringing the issue of racial oppression and police brutality back into the public discourse. Unfortunately for Kaepernick, and the movement he inspired, the public discourse has been heavily influenced by President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly lashed out at the movement via Twitter, and taken credit for Kaepernick’s unemployment. The president misrepresented Kaepernick’s intentions and continues to do so. Trump and others have argued that Kaepernick and those who agree with him are disrespecting the American flag and America’s troops. They argued that this was not the time and place for protest, claiming that sports and politics cannot mix. Athletes, supposedly, lack the political and social knowledge required to make reasonable political arguments. “Shut up and dribble” was the party line. What exactly happened in 1980, then, when the US boycotted the Olympics? Politics and sports, mixed as they never should. Over the years, presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Eisenhower, H.W. Bush, Wilson, and Trump himself all played football for their respective schools. Maybe they should not have been able to influence the public discourse either?
To those who say that this is about a lack of respect for the troop:. Kaepernick met with a former green beret named Nate Boyer in the protest’s first month. His discussion with Boyer is why he shifted his protest from sitting to kneeling: out of respect for the troops. Reasonable people on both sides support and respect all the men and women in our armed services. An unreasonable person would attack the now deceased Senator John McCain, a member of their own party, for surviving as a prisoner of war.
The protest returned most recently to the public eye when Nike released an ad campaign featuring Kaepernick and his message. In response, those who disagree with Kaepernick called for boycotts of Nike, which gained internet fame as people posted videos of themselves destroying or removing logos from their Nike products. In spite of these citizens’ best efforts, Nike’s stock has actually risen since the campaign started. Most of Nike’s largest markets, outside of New York and Los Angeles, are not even in the United States. Whatever loss in revenue, these boycotts do not seem to be worrisome for Nike executives. But now that the issue is back in the public’s attention, it is time for us at Fordham to get involved.
We in the Fordham community have an obligation to support Kaepernick, and these other protesters. As a Catholic, Jesuit University, we at Fordham have a duty to live out the university’s sacred mission. Fr. Joseph McShane has called in the past for us to be “bothered by injustice” and to “transform the world through redeeming love.” Latin phrases are often thrown around about how a Fordham student is a man, or woman for others, how a Fordham student cares for the whole person in everything she does. We are called, going back five hundred years in the words of St. Ignatius, to go out and set the world on fire. Christ himself spoke in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount about how the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and how those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. We at Fordham need to hunger for righteousness sake, even if we know we will be persecuted for it. We at Fordham need to stand up for those facing oppression and fight in the name of social justice, even if that means taking a knee.