Colin Kaepernick, the 28-year-old quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, ignited a firestorm on Friday, after he refused to stand for the national anthem at a preseason game with the Green Bay Packers.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said afterward. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick, who is mixed race, has joined a growing number of high-profile athletes who are choosing to speak out on the complex issues of race, violence, policing and civil rights in America. Check out Kaepernick’s Instagram feed. He’s not kidding around.
(By the way, it turns out the entire country has been sitting out the third stanza of the national anthem for decades, as it contains some choice – and racist – lyrics about former slaves who chose to fight for their freedom alongside the British during the War of 1812. Who knew?)
But in the modern world, one amplified by social media, it’s increasingly risky and potentially expensive for professional athletes to leverage their platforms to raise awareness, for anything except the most acceptable of causes.
So, it’s worth asking the bigger question. What should we expect from a professional athlete when it comes to race and society?
The Undefeated, the outstanding newish site about the intersection of race, sports and culture, asked that question last week, at an event held at the South Side YMCA in Chicago, and broadcast by ESPN. Called Athletes, Responsibility and Violence, it brought together a diverse group of people who are deeply intertwined with the Chicago community, from famous athletes ― like Dwyane Wade, who appeared via satellite ― to academics, crisis counselors and faith leaders, to share personal stories of violence and systemic neglect, and their prescriptions for change. The panelists were candid and unsparing.
Their big message was one that would resonate with Kaepernick: Silence is violence.
This year, more than 2,600 people have been shot in Chicago, more than 11 per day. And almost everyone who spoke had lost someone to some form of gun violence.
One of the panelists was Jolinda Wade, Dwyane Wade’s mother and a former drug dealer who became a pastor after doing time in jail. She talked about how lack of economic opportunity puts families at risk. “Some parents have to work one, two and three jobs and can’t be there for their kids,” she said. “Reality TV is raising our children today. And they’re going out on the street and being disconnected … They grow up and look around and nothing’s there.”
In a horrific twist, the Wades lost a young relative, Nykea Aldridge, to gun violence the very next day. The details of that story were temporarily overshadowed by the Donald Trump machine, after the candidate tweeted: “Dwayne Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!” (He retweeted it again later, fixing his misspelling of Wade’s first name.)
They will not. But Pastor Wade deserves the last word on the tragedy:
“Just sat up on a panel yesterday, The Undefeated, talking about the violence that’s going on within our city of Chicago, never knowing that the next day we would be the ones that would be actually living and experiencing it,” she said to reporters outside the emergency room where Aldridge was pronounced dead. “We’re still going to try and help these people to transform their minds and give them a different direction, so this thing won’t keep happening. We’re still going to help empower people like the one who senselessly shot my niece in the head.”
|Beyonce slays at the MTV Video Music Awards|
|In between rendering hosts Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele speechless, and winning the award for “Best Female Video,” Beyonce gave a 16 minute performance which included five songs from her visual album, Lemonade. It is a work that is informed by race, references the Movement for Black Lives, and is centered firmly on the lived experience of black women. Yes, the crowd went wild. Follow #BeyonceBrokeTheVMAs for the ongoing commentary.|
|Genetics testing company 23andMe has a significant race problem|
|Journalist Euny Hong offers a hilariously damning account of her attempt to explore her genetic history using the test offered by 23andMe. Turns out, the genetic comparisons are primarily European. Her data was compared to a dataset containing only 76 other Koreans. The Sub-Saharan African sample size is 228, about 2800% smaller than the European set. She asked a slew of geneticists for their take. It’s not good.|
|Peace breaks out in Colombia|
|A definitive cease fire has been put into effect, ending a 52-year-war between Farc (the revolutionary armed forces) and the Colombian government. Farc has agreed to end all hostilities and join a political process moving forward, and a popular vote on the agreement will be held in October. The conflict has left an estimated 260,000 people dead and millions internally displaced.|
|Zika confirmed in Singapore, mostly in foreign construction workers|
|Singapore authorities Sunday said they have confirmed 41 cases of Zika virus infection that were transmitted locally – 36 of the infected were foreign constructions workers. And they expect to find more cases, officials said. On Thursday, China added America to a list of Zika-infected countries – which would be a significant problem for U.S. exporters, who may be required to fumigate containers heading to China.|
|Wall Street Journal|
|Why black men quit teaching|
|Professor Christopher Emdin has become a vocal advocate for underserved students, and a critic of efforts by well-intentioned white educators to dispense advice to failing schools. Students who are struggling with adverse effects of poverty do not need ‘tough love.’ “Black male teachers can serve as powerful role models, but they cannot fix the problems minority students face simply by being black and male,” he writes.|
|New York Times|
|America’s oldest park ranger is a 93-year-old black woman|
|Betty Reid Soskin is the great-granddaughter of a slave and works at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in California, a park she helped design. She leads a tour that tells the history of women wartime workers. “I still love this uniform,” she says. “Partly because there’s a silent message to every little girl of color that I pass on the street … that there’s a career choice she may have never thought of.”|
The Woke Leader
|Hear the racist third stanza in the Star Spangled Banner|
|Students from Morgan State University have put together an excellent, 15-minute documentary on the history of the Star Spangled Banner – its early days as a barroom victory song and its unlikely arrival as a sanctified part of the American public experience. An extra treat: You’ll get to hear the third stanza sung by a wonderful small black choir. Boom.|
|Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei turns 59|
|Do yourself a favor and celebrate his birthday by watching Never Sorry, an extraordinary documentary that explores the life of Ai, as he makes galvanizing art while using social media to hold the Chinese government accountable for what he considers to be their various crimes against its citizens. His activism nearly gets him killed. It offers a compelling look at Chinese society today. He also has 40 cats.|
|The Underground Railroad’s complex history|
|With two major novels on the subject slated for release this year, there is renewed interest in the Underground Railroad, the abolitionist network that helped slaves journey north to freedom. But historians are discovering our collective memory is flawed, and the stories about the Railroad have, “like so many that we tell about our nation’s past, a tricky relationship to the truth: not quite wrong, but simplified; not quite a myth, but mythologized.” At the heart of the stories we tend to tell? White heroes.|