Let us assume the best in people. Let us assume that they understand exactly why Colin Kaepernick and other athletes are protesting. Let us assume they support their right to do so, whether they themselves would participate or not.
Even still, in some cases, the first argument one comes up against is that the media shouldn't be focusing on it - negative or positive coverage, it doesn't matter, they just don’t want to hear about it. It's not a sports story to those people. They run to sports to ignore the issues of the day. Especially in this very divisive — and, frankly, quite scary — time in American history. They don't want to be reminded of politics, or the issues facing our fellow citizens who aren't white.
They just want black athletes to take the field and perform for their entertainment and give no thought to what happens to them after they leave their televisions.
But let's take a big step back here and point out the amount of privilege afforded to us, white Americans, to be able to separate parts of our lives from politics and current events. Do you think black athletes get a special pass that helps them avoid the issues being protested when they leave the field? Or that their money protects them? That is not the case.
Look at Thabo Sefolosha, who had his leg broken by the police. Look at what happened to Michael Bennett in Las Vegas this summer. Money and fame cannot protect you from those who have been proven time and again to be above the law in the eyes of the legal system. That is the reason for the protests.
These are people, first; athletes second. They do not lose their humanity when they become well-paid athletes. To imply that they lose their right to protest and generally have a vested interest in the world they live in when they gain millions of dollars implies that you think they are objects to be obtained by teams, not people.
They do not sign on the dotted line to give up their voice. More importantly, to argue that they shouldn’t speak out because they are rich implies that we listen to poor people who speak out about injustice, which is not the case.
Many people not only don’t want to be inconvenienced by protest, they flat out don’t want to hear about the suffering of others. Just having it addressed is an inconvenience to them.
Therefore there will never be an acceptable form of protest. Whether in the streets or on the field, the protests happening right now and how we view them is how we will be remembered.
Historical protests have never been popular while they were occurring. The lens of history paints those who did the right thing as heroes, but what is generally ignored is how they were treated by their contemporaries.
Protests, even those that seem to be obviously just in hindsight, are basically never popular as they're going on. Civil Rights: pic.twitter.com/9gju5ooYlx— Patrick Wyman (@Patrick_Wyman) September 24, 2017
What should you do when no one is listening?
The short answer: Make them listen. If they’re going to demean you for how you protest, no matter how peacefully you do it, it becomes more important than ever to use your voice to demand their attention. Athletes are no exception to that.
In fact, they may be one of the most important aspects to it. Sports are a unifying part of society. One where we are divided not by ideologies, but by location or team preference. Sparking conversations about important issues between people with different ideologies is what we need to try to bring more attention to these issues that are being ignored.
We live in a world where people of color are marginalized, their voices and lived experiences drowned out by lies, spin, and endless shifting of goal posts.
We live in a country where we can watch videos of black citizens murdered by the police simply due to the color of their skin, which is associated with fear for some. Then time and again, we watch those who committed the acts face no consequences. To the contrary, this further pushes many Americans to raise law enforcement officers up on a higher pedestal, while holding them to lower standards.
This is a country where we have watched a video of a white supremacist running down a group of protesters in Charlottesville, VA, resulting in one of those protesters' death. Only to have the President of the United States of America double, nay, triple down on his refusal to condemn the side that caused that death, to condemn the white supremacy that helped get him the presidency.
And I guess, in a way, that makes sense. Anyone still expecting Donald Trump to adhere to any common decency and norms is fighting an already-lost battle. And anyone demanding "both sides-ism" coverage of his presidency is not paying attention — there is no other side. If you're looking for lies and spin, you will not find it here.
Trump will say whatever he thinks will score points with his base. If you look at his approval ratings, it would appear that the solid portion of his base consists of either racists or those un-bothered by racism and white supremacy. Because everyone else has jumped ship.
This was confirmed after Charlottesville, when white supremacists took heart in his pathetic excuse for a response to the violence, attempting to smear "both sides" by drawing a false equivalency between the white supremacists who caused the violence and the protesters who were against them.
There isn't a right or left here. There is no Republicans or Democrats. It was decent people from all walks of life denouncing Nazis in their streets vs. the actual Nazis in their streets.
When “sticking to sports” is no longer an option
If you're still reading this, you are also likely troubled by these things. As are many other citizens. As are the athletes who are speaking out about these things. As are the sportswriters and coaches and team owners who are doing the same. This is all thanks in part to the decision by the White House to focus on sports-related issues.
Let's look at the president’s descent into attacking prominent black people in sports and sports media. Which, let's face it, is ridiculous on the whole. Our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico are facing a catastrophe the likes of which most of us cannot even fathom, but sure - the president should focus on sports.
Let's talk about Jemele Hill. In a string of tweets, Hill accurately describes Trump as harboring white supremacists in his staff and accurately draws the comparison that he is a white supremacist as well for not doing anything about this or other areas involving the public rise in white supremacist ideology.
Hill was not the only person to say these things. I have said similar things (obviously with a much smaller audience) and some of my colleagues at Golden State of Mind have said or implied the same things, some of my colleagues at McCovey Chronicles have said or implied the same things. Many NBA coaches have said or implied the same things. Most major sports writers have said or implied the same things. But....well, they're mostly white men. As are most sports writers, period. So why exactly was Jemele Hill targeted? I think you know.
Cut to a couple of weeks later and Donald Trump was calling Colin Kaepernick a "son of a bitch" for sparking the protests that will likely define a generation of athletes.
This is the same Donald Trump who had nothing bad to say about a white supremacist who murdered a protester with their vehicle but Colin Kaepernick is worthy of his condemnation?
Have I missed something? Has Colin Kaepernick murdered someone? Maybe beaten his girlfriend? No, silly me, if he'd done any of those things he'd still have a job in the NFL.
Kaepernick's biggest crime was having conviction. Having the fortitude to act and stand behind his actions. To do the right thing and shine a light where no light was shining.
To spark a movement, even if it took a while to catch on.
Again, protests during the anthem are not protests OF the anthem. Or the flag. Or the country. Or the military. We are not a nationalist country where performative patriotism is required by law. And we should never aspire to be one. We should aspire to be a country that inspires patriotism by its actions and treatment of its citizens. Citizens who have a right to protest injustice. And athletes are citizens too.
When Warriors and Cavaliers fans can unite against you, you know you did something wrong
A day after Trump’s comments about Colin Kaepernick, Fox News was showing a segment about Stephen Curry weighing the possibility of visiting the White House, as is the norm of championship teams.
Let us remember that Curry is not new to the White House. Curry was a friend of former President Barack Obama. The two golfed together, they spent a lot of time together endorsing projects that would help people. Which probably didn’t help in this case, considering the fact that Donald Trump already has a presidential track record of trying to destroy anything that Barack Obama was in favor of.
Participation in the Paris Climate Accord? Gone. Flood regulations that would have gone into effect to try to avoid the type of flooding we saw in Houston in the future? Eliminated. And forget about the Affordable Care Act. He’s left that up to legislators who continue to try to push through terrible bills, all so that he can say that he repealed it. With no regard to what it would be replaced with. Because it is the gem of Obama’s legacy.
(Gee, I can’t imagine why someone who made his political name on denouncing the basic citizenship of our first black president might be focused on destroying that same president’s legacy.)
Anyway, Curry had previously stated that he would not attend a White House trip under the current administration, as had many of his teammates. But the Golden State Warriors organization had been keeping the lines of communication open out of a sense of propriety and politeness that was shared by the White House representative(s) who had been working with them.
Well, those lines of communication were shut down twenty minutes after that Fox News segment aired, with Trump angrily tweeting that Curry's invitation was revoked. Which felt a lot like the words of a person trying to reject someone before they could themselves be rejected. But, whatever. The point is that the Warriors took it as an organizational rejection and reacted accordingly.
As did the rest of the NBA.
And the sports world in general.
Adam Silver responded, NFL owners such as Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers responded, college coaches such as Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan responded, the very first baseball player to kneel during the anthem came on the heels of all of this, in the form of Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics.
We saw LeBron James take a stance. We saw Kobe Bryant take a stance. It felt like Trump's attack on Curry (and his more forceful attack on Kaepernick) was the catalyst many were waiting for. Reports of "hundreds of demonstrators" throughout the NFL planning to protest on Sunday circulated on Saturday night. I don’t know for certain if that ended up being the case, but several teams decided to spend the anthem in their locker rooms instead.
So I ask you, reader of sports content, is this not sports news? Is this not relevant to sports? These are top athletes and coaches. They have voices and platforms, do I not have a duty to listen, as someone who writes about sports?
Take stock of the world you are living in. Take stock of the severity of much of what is going on. Do you think you are alone in experiencing those things? Or do you think that maybe, just maybe, athletes and sports writers are experiencing them too? And that they are doing what they think is right in drawing attention to them. In using their platforms to say something, to try to do something, to try to spark a flame that might help change things?
Or are you watching sports just to tune out of terrible things that will likely not affect you? To ignore the inconveniences of protest. Maybe you think that there is a concept of a perfectly convenient protest. But a perfectly convenient protest is ignorable by its very concept, and thus ineffective. If it's not seen or heard, it does nothing. The biggest catalysts of change in American history have been unignorable protests.
Americans dumping tea into the Boston harbor and refusing British tyranny. Our nation was sparked from unignorable protest.
However, that seems to be what a lot of people want. A protest that they don't have to hear about or see.
A protest like Colin Kaepernick quietly sitting on the sidelines of a pre-season NFL game during the anthem, drawing no attention to himself. Oh. But wait, you took offense to that too? Even though it literally didn't affect your life and didn't block your streets?
Maybe because you think he was disrespecting our veterans, but....oh, wait, a ton of veterans are now kneeling with him and expounding on how they fought for his right to protest? Try again, I guess.
And people will continue to try to find a way to explain why they detest any form of activism taken by a black athlete or citizen that isn't steeped in racism, apathy towards racism, or a desire to ignore the very concept of racism as a fundamental problem in America.
We could continue going on and on with rationalizing objections to these protests and exposing contradictions. But ultimately, what does that solve? The protests won’t stop. The reasons for the protests won’t stop. And where does that leave us? We need to start doing what we pride ourselves on as Americans. Putting in the work, talking and listening to each other, and coming up with solutions, not excuses.