Yesterday was the opening day of this year’s football season. Football player Colin Kaepernick has become the initiator of a revival of ‘The Heritage’, the tradition dating back to Paul Robeson and Jackie Robinson of successful black athletes using their visibility to make political statements against racial injustice. This proud tradition had been undermined by people like O. J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods who decided that money was the most important thing for them and eschewed any words or actions that might alienate anyone. This sent the Heritage into a long period of dormancy.
But in 2016 Kaepernick, by kneeling during the national anthem prior to football games to protest police violence, spurred a revival of the tradition. Donald Trump has used his actions to rile up his base by invoking the standard tropes of demagogues and wrapping himself, sometimes literally, in the flag and arguing that kneeling was some horrendous insult to the nation as a whole. But that has had the effect of spurring other prominent black athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams to come out in support of Kaepenick. Trump then escalated the war by attacking James, which resulted in even the studiously controversy-averse Jordan getting involved by supporting James. Trump may have made a mistake by targeting James because the latter is greatly respected by fellow athletes and is untouchable. There is not a chance that the NBA will take any action if James kneels or says anything in support of Kaepernick.
Kaepernick has had a good couple of weeks. The arbitrator overseeing his case that NFL owners and the league were colluding to deny him employment has ruled against the owners who had requested a summary dismissal of his case. This means that the arbitrator thinks there is enough evidence to move forward with a full hearing, though it does not guarantee that Kaepernick will eventually win.
Then the earlier unilateral decision by the NFL that allowed owners to punish players who knelt was abandoned after the players union protested and now the union is in talks with the NFL about setting a national anthem policy.
The league put its new anthem policy, ratified by the owners in May, on hold at the outset of training camps as part of an agreement with the NFLPA. The union, in return, at least temporarily halted its grievance against that policy.
The owners have remained interested in attempting to get the players to stand for the anthem before games, according to people familiar with the situation. Some representatives of the players have said they might prefer a return to the anthem policy that was in effect before May’s change. That policy suggested that players stand for the anthem but did not require it.
The policy ratified by the owners in May said that the league could discipline a team for any protest during the anthem by a player. It left it up to the team involved whether a player would be disciplined for a protest. That policy gave players the option to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem. The policy that was in effect last season required players to be on the field during the anthem.
Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is running a strong challenge against the awful incumbent Ted Cruz for the senate seat in Texas, gave a powerful response when asked his views on the kneeling issue, reminding people of the powerful role good that peaceful, non-violent gestures of protest have had in the country’s history in improving the rights of everyone.
‘I can think of nothing more American.’ — Beto O'Rourke — the man taking on Ted Cruz — brilliantly explains why NFL players kneeling during the anthem is not disrespectful pic.twitter.com/bEqOAYpxEL
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 21, 2018
Finally, Nike has decided to use Kaepernick as the face of its campaign to celebrate 30 years of its successful ‘Just do it’ ad campaign. This is an interesting development. Here is the ad, aired for the first time during yesterday’s opening game, narrated by Kaepernick. There is a whole lot more in the ad than just Kaepernick to outrage the wackos. The entire ad is about the need for inclusivity in every area.
Nike is in business to make money by selling goods to the sports-loving public. They had to know that this decision would be controversial but must have concluded that they stood to gain more than they lost. Nike supplies the uniforms to all NFL teams and seems to have calculated that they will not lose that contract with this move. It is interesting that Trump’s response, while criticizing Nike’s decision, was relatively muted. Big business is always treated with respect by politicians. A black police officers group has also come out in support of Kaepernick and Nike. And a contestant for Miss America also supported the gesture to protest police brutality.
Trevor Noah looked at this and other recent controversies and boycotts.