Collin Kaepernick was the invisible man who now has the whole world watching. If you are not an avid football watcher, the talented former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers probably wasn’t on your radar. However, if you are an avid watcher of political trends and social justice movements that probably all changed on August 26, 2016. During a game, the (then) quarterback took a knee during the national anthem in protest to the police brutality faced by Black people. He was interviewed several times about the protest and his answers, all consistent and thoughtful, grabbed global attention. He stated: “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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview 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.”
Although in this statement he speaks specifically around police brutality, the underlying message is about an abuse of power and a corrupt system that is designed to protect it. It is about corruption that is paid for with tax dollars and bodies by the very citizens it is supposed to protect. It is easy to believe the issues around corruption, social injustice, and inequality in American remains in America. These issues are not, in fact, exclusive to America. The fight for equality prevails in any place where an “us” needs a “them” to survive, and white supremacy reigns supreme. Any space where groups of citizens are marginalized and capitalism is alive and kicking, you will see inequality and social injustice.
The fight for equality prevails in any place where an “us” needs a “them” to survive, and white supremacy reigns supreme.
What comes first? Large economic gaps in countries or social inequality? This may very well be the equivalent of asking the age-old question of the chicken or the egg. It is hard to talk about one without the other. Perhaps it is no wonder that citizens in Germany, one of Europe’s richest countries, felt the connection to the protest started by Kaepernick. According to Financial Times, many citizens are “surviving but not living, ” and the biggest issue at the polls is the ever-growing social gap between the rich and the poor. In Germany, as a show of solidarity with the NFL protestors, members of the soccer team Hertha Berlin took a knee before their game. The team used their social media platforms to post the following message: “Hertha BSC stands for tolerance and responsibility! For a tolerant Berlin and an open-minded world, now and forevermore!”
(source: The Guardian. original article)
The Kapernick-initiated protest, which has grown in support since President Trump has urged NFL owners to fire players and referred to them as “sons of bitches,” continues to resonate globally and doesn’t look to be dying down. It is also worth noting this is not the first time an African-American sports figure has used their platform to bring global awareness to injustices faced in the United States or injustice faced in another country at the hands of the United States. In 1967, boxer Muhamad Ali used his platform to express his reasoning for refusing to serve in the war in Vietnam. Ali famously stated: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor, hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.” As a result, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison for evasion, fined $10,000 and barred from competition for three years. That ruling was later overturned by the US Supreme Court.
A year later in 1968 Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their fist to show solidarity with the Black Power movement during their Olympic medal ceremony. This was the raised fist heard around the world. Even without the invention of the internet, this sparked national and international discussions and questions.
Both the political statement made by Smith and Carlos and the protest by Ali resonated globally but perhaps for different reasons from that of Kaepernick. Griots Republic spoke to Clinton Yates, Senior Writer at Undefeated and co-host at ESPN Radio about why Kaepernick resonates so profoundly on a global level. Yates stated:
“I think the reason why Kaepernick has resonated globally is because he’s challenged the fundamental idea of what the U.S. is about. This country has been dining out on being the global moral authority for decades, and it wasn’t always considered to be sound. So, when that level of exceptionalism is challenged people AKA the globe, takes notice.”
Could it be that the thought of a quarterback using his leadership skills off the field to question the hypocrisy of the “moral” and mighty America has an inescapable global appeal? Or is the message of fighting for social inequality so strong that it transcends location and draws global support on levels not previously done by an athlete? I imagine both answers are true, and if you truly unpacked them, you would find that they are as intrinsically linked as the connection between a massive income gap and inequality.