By: Taylor Zachary ~Columnist~
After the Black Power Salute of the 1968 Olympics, the strong presence of the radical Black athlete disappeared from virtually every sports arena. I suppose this is, in large part, due to the comfort and complacency of the Black middle class following the conclusion of the Civil Rights Era.
Black athletes found themselves in need of a new argument for liberation. As racism became more subtle, integrated sports teams, programs and policies became tolerable. Additionally, in the 70s and 80s Black athletes were introduced to an unprecedented territory of socioeconomic mobility: corporate sponsorship.
William Rhoden, a legendary sports columnist at the New York Times, challenges his readers to think of the process of sport as a conveyor belt.
“The ultimate effect of the Conveyor Belt is not so much to deliver young black athletes to the pros, but to deliver them with the correct mentality: they learn not to rock the boat, to get along, they learn by inference about the benevolent superiority of the white man and enter into a tactic agreement to let the system operate without comment,” Rhoden writes in his book Forty Million Dollar Slaves.
Rhoden’s point about cultivating the mentality of Black athletes cannot be emphasized enough. The era which introduced corporate sponsorships to Black athletes turned the myth of economic security as freedom into a praxis. Black athletes such as Michael Jordan and OJ Simpson implicitly taught a generation to defer their Blackness in pursuit of the economic freedom of white America.
Consequently, as one may easily conclude, the learned practice of deference to the sports industrial complex in pursuit of economic freedom significantly diminished the presence of radical ideologies at all levels of sports. Significantly more damning and with much greater, intimate consequences, Black athletes lost touch with their Blackness.
Therefore, Colin Kaepernick’s unapologetic reclaiming of the same Blackness football taught him to forget is of critical importance.
Recognize, as Bomani Jones of ESPN writes, Kaepernick is asking for justice, not peace. To paraphrase Jones, Kaepernick did not surround himself with a crowd of fans, coaches or teammates. He did not intentionally sit himself in front of a camera, broadcasting his efforts to millions. He didn’t concern himself with getting support or approval from the National Football League.
He sat alone, his Black body draped in the same red mirrored on the American Flag, a paradoxical telling of the inescapable constriction of American racism.
Because he centers racism in his analysis, he implicitly uplifts the persistence of anti-blackness and white supremacy. From the mouth of an athlete, such an examination of American systems is almost unprecedented – at least in the 21st century. Often, professional athletes who decide to speak about racism promote problematic myths. For example, the legendary Jim Brown, as well as contemporary superstar Richard Sherman, both swear by the myth of Black-on-Black crime.
But, policing practices and policies mandate that police be more present and forceful in Black communities than white communities. Criminality is by no means an inherent component of Blackness.
Furthermore, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul united at the Espys to promote the myth of “bad apples policing.” Bad apples policing is best captured in the phrase, “but there are good cops, too.”
Don’t distract yourself from the point. Policing is a system, rich with all the characteristics of a systematic structure. If dirty water comes out of the faucet in your bathroom, you wouldn’t wash your face under the premise that the water is usually clean. No. The water system is damaged and needs to be replaced. The same holds for policing.
Colin Kaepernick does not stand by the myth of Black on Black crime. He does not divide individual officers into arbitrary categories of good or bad. His stance, or shall I say his sit, is radical.
During a recent interview, a reporter asked Colin Kaepernick if he will continue to sit. His response illustrates a revolutionary disposition: “I’m going to continue to sit, and I’m going to continue to stand with the people. When there is significant change and this country represents its people the way it is supposed to, I’ll stand.”