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For The Red, White & Bruised - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: Getty Images

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge
to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at
whatever cost.” 

- Arthur Ashe

The 2017-2018 NFL regular season starts tomorrow. And Colin Kaepernick, the 
former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, is without a team. He has become
the center of a roiling and furious debate ever since he first sat down, then took
a knee as the National Anthem played before games last season. Kaepernick did
so as his form of protest against the continued shootings of Black people by law
enforcement officials across the nation and the inequality inflicted on people of 
color in general. Other players, most notably Michael Bennett of the Seattle 
Seahawks and Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles among them, also 
began to protest in solidarity with him on these issues. Months later, the protests
and the debate continues. Without Kaepernick, who is the likely target of a silent
but concentrated blackballing effort by ownership in the National Football League.
Not unlike the "gentleman's agreement" that existed in Major League Baseball under 
then Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that barred Black players until Jackie
Robinson's breaking of the color line in 1947. 

Of course, this is the part where someone out there will chime in to claim that this
isn't true. I've heard all of the arguments exhausted and taken apart. There's the 
camp that says he isn't THAT good. He's four years removed from taking the Niners
to the Super Bowl. Look at the slew of QB's who have been chosen by teams across
the league to start or play backup in comparison. Brock Osweiler, who went to the
Houston Texans and got traded with a draft pick a YEAR LATER to the Cleveland 
Browns, who then cut him a few days ago, goes back to the Denver Broncos. Jay
, who was retired and was all set to be in the broadcast booth, gets a fresh
new contract with the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who Jets fans were mortified
at after a season last year that included lowlights not seen since Mark Sanchez(who
by the way is backing up Dak Prescott in Dallas), has a gig in Tampa Bay. Given the
recycling bin that the position can be in the NFL, for Kaepernick to not even get a 
tryout is amazing. Then there's the argument that he was asking for too much money.
When no one could get exact statements from credible sources to support that point,
then they pointed to his girlfriend - a recent example of it being used by former 
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Mainly because of a tweet she directed at him.
I've had discussions with a couple of cats who say that if he only spoke up, that it 
could possibly help him get a tryout. Kaep has already stated that he would not be
kneeling in protest this season if he were to be picked up by a team. So there is 
really nothing standing in the way of him being looked at for consideration.

Nothing except the fact that he has effectively revealed the still-embedded hypocrisy
that surrounds sports and politics in that they are separate entities.

"If you destroyed the underpinnings of this great American sport,
you are a hated, ugly, detestable person."

- Curt Flood

To me, the proof that Kaepernick's position is right lies in the rising amount of anger
and defensiveness that exists on the part of the detractors looking to keep things the
way they are. They do this because they benefit from things remaining the way they
are. Look at Ray Lewis. This is someone who basically got a second chance after pleading
to an obstruction of justice charge related to a crime of double murder in 2000
after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta, Georgia. He's now someone who has fixed himself
as a man of God, and an inspirational figure. But he's also now seen as someone who
the Ravens organization will put out there as media cannon fodder when it comes to
Kaepernick. Another person who is looking to make his bread off of this while within
the system is Jason Whitlock, sports writer and host of "Speak For Yourself" on Fox
Sports One who has essentially made himself the Shelby Steele of Black sports media
figures with his respectability politics that reek of servitude. It seems like he has a 
personal score against Kaepernick to the point of airing a skit on his show yesterday
that mocked the quarterback - apparently with the help of Kid of the iconic rap duo 
Kid N Play. Whitlock has himself been under fire for his behavior which led to his parting
of ways with ESPN. But this marks a new low, one that essentially spits in the face of
all who came before him across the Civil Rights spectrum. The protests Kaepernick helped
to initiate have even made some members of the Cleveland police union and the EMS union
publicly state they will not participate in the pregame activities before the Browns' 
season opener. Add these voices to the rabble online that throw out shots at Kaep in
expletive-laden social media posts (with some dubious spelling errors) in the name of
patriotism and yell "stick to sports" and it goes to show that a nerve has been struck.
The quote above by Curt Flood brings that truth home. A cross-section of the American 
public throughout history has never wanted to confront the ugly truths that sports can
obscure. Yet without the merging of sports and politics, some of what makes this nation
great would not exist. Think about Curt Flood. He fought against being traded by the St.
Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies because he felt that the owners of baseball
were treating players like chattel instead of like valued athletes. He lost his career, but 
in the process opened up the free agency era that today's athlete would be lost without.
Kaepernick seems poised to walk down that same road - his charitable efforts have been
constant and widespread. 

There's been a good amount of protest on his behalf, and there's a certain number of people
and groups that plan to boycott this NFL season. The NFL is the dominant sport in the 
country because of TV ratings. It's not a good look at all - especially for a league that is
now beset with issues of former and current players dealing with trauma after the steady
amount of collisions, and an epidemic within some of its players that focuses on domestic
violence. Kaepernick's crime seems to have been offending veterans, if you look at the 
more reasoned opposition to his protest. But a number of vets have commended him for
his stance and support him. 

Kaepernick has found himself as a key figure among the red, white and bruised who are
athletes. One of my friends disparaged him, feeling that "someone" was behind him taking
these stances. The conspiracy theory is always the tool of deflection used by those who 
are either weak themselves or cannot develop effective critical thinking. This is someone
who prior to his rise in the NFL, was derided for having tattoos that made him seem like
a "thug". Kaepernick didn't set out to be a hero. He set out to speak his mind and use his
platform to do something good for people, to make a change. The thing about change is,
there will always be those against it as it takes place. He just has to take those lumps as 
he's now out of the pocket of protection that an athlete's salary and status affords him as
long as he sticks to the script.

For that willingness to do so, to adhere to the tenets this nation reveres - he's already 
got his champion status.


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