In the Bay Area, we talk about being pioneers, disrupters, and risk-takers. But, there is no established path or playbook for pioneers. One wrong step and you can take a brutal hit. Colin Kaepernick is a pioneer who has definitely taken a hit, and he learned this the hard way. He was the first in the NFL to protest racial profiling and police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem, but he has enjoyed none of the benefits or privileges of being a “first.” What happens when a pioneer delivers a message that we are not ready to hear?
While history is kind to trailblazers, the present is not.
If you had asked the average American one year ago what they thought of Kaepernick taking a knee, you would have found out that, “72 percent of Americans said that they thought Kaepernick's behavior was unpatriotic.” Now, many outlets have applauded the players who have followed in Kaepernick’s footsteps as courageous. Basketball players such Stephen Curry and his entire team from the Golden State Warriors are joining Kaepernick’s protest in solidarity.
Think about that: it took The NBA’s Golden Boy, Stephen Curry, to make the right to peacefully protest a movement that the nation could get behind.
This week, the New York Times ran a piece by Eric Reid, a safety for the San Francisco 49ers. He said, “I can’t find words that appropriately express how heartbroken I am to see the constant smears against Colin, a person who helped start the movement with only the very best of intentions. We are talking about a man who helped to orchestrate a commercial planeful of food and supplies for famine-stricken Somalia. A man who has invested his time and money into needy communities here at home. A man I am proud to call my brother, who should be celebrated for his courage to seek change on important issues. Instead, to this day, he is unemployed and portrayed as a radical un-American who wants to divide our country.”
Reid highlights that if you are a trailblazer, you must be willing to start a movement alone, no matter how universal, or fundamentally American your message. However, with time, others can recognize how we all share the same struggle.
Since Reid, Curry, and Lebron James’s expression of solidarity with Kaepernick, sports legends such as Michael Jordan are also joining the movement. Jordan told the Charlotte Observer, “One of the fundamental rights this country is founded on was freedom of speech, and we have a long tradition of nonviolent, peaceful protest. Those who exercise the right to peacefully express themselves should not be demonized or ostracized.”
This weekend, we saw entire sports teams and their owners lock arms in solidarity, and show a united front. As USA Today pointed out, “The old “stick to sports” suggestion no longer applies.” President Trump took notice, and today tweeted, “The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem!” What Trump has missed is that you cannot selectively regulate freedom of expression. As sports teams have shown by linking arms, that although Kaepernick remains unsigned to this day, his message has been brought to life, and is something every American can get behind.