Protests and Tangents

Charlotte, NC – September 18, 2016: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) walks off the field at Bank of America Stadium with his fist up in the air after their game against the Panthers.(Gerry Melendez for ESPN)

There is no such thing as a right way to protest.

No matter what the cause, a protest is supposed to bring light to it. Those who disagree with the mannerisms are supposed to feel uncomfortable, with the hopes of the protestors to see change. We grew up reading history books in school, learning about the myriad of marches, rallies and boycotts in America with many helping our country improve.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee last year, it was for one reason: to shed light on police brutality and oppression. Whether you agree or disagree that he’s not dealing with those problems, there are millions across the nation who are. Recently, Facebook brought up a conversation I had with my dad last year, where he told me I should start wearing my press pass around my neck when I drive so in case I have a run-in with a police officer they’ll think twice before opening fire.

Some might laugh, but I wore it around my neck for a solid month every time I hit the road.

Although several players joined Kaepernick across the NFL during the 2016 campaign and even more in 2017, it wasn’t until Sept. 24 when hundreds either took a knee or sat for the National Anthem. Of course, it raised additional questions because it was confusing to tell who was doing it for the initial cause — again, police brutality and oppression — and who was doing it just because President Donald Trump called them out of their name. If it was the latter, suddenly the actual movement is skewed.

Personally, I wondered why it took this moment for solidarity. Kaepernick is essentially a martyr for a movement witnessed in the NFL which veered off to an entirely different point. Now there’s controversy about what Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys did (although it was before the anthem) and what the Pittsburgh Steelers did among other teams, along with more people saying they’re not going to watch the NFL. Shoot, aside from 10 minutes of a weak Facebook stream between the Rams and 49ers, I’ve been following through social media and newspaper box scores.

(By the way, I was cool with what the Steelers did, along with Alejandro Villanueva coming out to stand for the anthem. Reason being: I take the time to listen to both sides.)

I also wrote a column back in 2016 (which can be read here: http://www.kinston.com/news/20160830/smith-colin-kaepernick-and-ignored-discussion) explaining how Kaepernick’s message to shed light on two problems we have here in America was being overshadowed by his action. The most frustrating part for the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback had to be the backlash from his action without going beyond the surface and understanding why he did it. There was nothing of malicious intent, no violence involved.

Yet again, there is no such thing as a right way to protest. Never has been and never will be.

(Also, please stop using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the person who provided the right example for how a group should protest. He was arrested 29 times because of his peaceful movements, had his house bombed on Sept. 30, 1956 due to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and had numerous death threats sent to him before his assassination in 1968. Something tells me his movement wasn’t exactly universally liked.)

I still stand for the anthem at the games I cover, mainly because of my father — a man who spent 22 years in the Army and is my biggest role model. He told me how he agrees with what Kaepernick and other athletes are doing, but believes there’s no greater country than this one. He’s also heavily involved in the church and a youth development center for at-risk African-American youth. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick has donated more than $800,000 through his Foundation while simultaneously providing receipts for where the money goes and actually getting out to assist. Sounds like someone who’s using his platform to make a difference, right?

The problem is this: history loves to vilify athletes who speak out at the moment. The biggest example has to be Muhammad Ali, who wasn’t appreciated for any of his stances until decades later, but Curt Flood also comes to mind. The guy who essentially pioneered free agency for all athletes, didn’t get his gratitude until decades later, after numerous critics told him to just shut up and play. Why speak out, right?

True story: shortly after the 1968 Olympics, mostly known for Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute on the podium, my dad was driving through Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He was stopped by an MP and put in holding, not because he was breaking the law, but because he was wearing a black driving glove — similar to the ones Carlos and Smith had. In the grand scheme of things, 49 years is not a long time, especially in a nation that is 241 years old where my parents were old enough to give vivid descriptions of life before Civil Rights doctrines were set.

Some 30 years from now, Colin Kaepernick will be hailed as a universally renowned football player who looked to shed light on social issues, similar to Muhammad Ali. There won’t be nearly as many desecrating his name — the only difference is we have better technology to see who was really down in the beginning. Similar to what’s happening with the NFL now.

Then again, what do I know — there’s no right way to protest.

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