Talk is cheap.
Thus far, Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem for three months has amounted to nothing more than talk about systemic racial inequality in this country we all know has been there.
It’s also important to realize Kaepernick’s protest is only partly directed at police brutality. He has said all along he refuses to stand for the national anthem because of a host of issues that have stacked up against voiceless, downtrodden minorities.
“I’ve been very blessed to be in this position and to be able to make the kind of money I do,” Kaepernick said in August when his movement started. “And I have to help these people. I have to help these communities. It’s not right that they’re not put in a position to succeed or given those opportunities to succeed.”
This all goes beyond police shootings. This has to do with education and jobs and housing and opportunities.
It has to do with situations like in Pennsylvania, where there exists the most unequal funding gap in the nation between wealthy and poor schools. It has to do with the stark contrast between white and black unemployment, the fact that for decades, the black jobless rate has been twice that of white unemployment. It has to do with wealth disparities along racial lines. It has to do with mass incarceration and the high percentage of drug arrests leaning toward minorities. It has to do with gang violence and food deserts and pockets of major cities that have been ignored by elected officials for generations.
Some of these injustices can be repaired through policy change, overhauling laws in statehouses and working to more evenly distribute resources for schools and communities that have been forgotten like Erie, Pennsylvania, and Flint, Michigan, where the powers that be ignored complaints in the black community about the high levels of lead in the water system. The Erie school system is mostly made up of poor minorities, yet the district has teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, has cut programs and is considering closing its high schools because of the state’s unequal funding gap that rewards wealthier communities.
NBA great Charles Barkley asks protesting jocks: ‘What are you actually doing to help the problem?’
(Tim Cattera/NBAE/Getty Images)
These are just a few of the many inequalities that pushed Kaepernick to start his protest, which has spread to high school and Pop Warner athletes and even one national anthem singer, who performed “The Star Spangled Banner” from one knee recently before a Miami Heat game. But just taking a knee or raising a fist or locking arms in solidarity does nothing to solve these problems. It only muddles matters when the movement’s gotten to the point of someone protesting the very song coming out of their mouth.
All of this has only started a conversation. A passionate, uncomfortable and necessary one about the state of America.
But the path to real and meaningful change goes beyond words and a conversation.
“I challenge all these guys,” Charles Barkley said last week at a media event. “What are they actually doing to help the cause? You can raise a fist, you can take a knee, but what are you actually doing to help the problem?”
That’s the magic question. Now that it’s been three months of silent protest, it’s fair to ask what’s next. What must happen now to ensure the last three months of building awareness doesn’t fizzle like so many other social protests?
“I’m past the gestures,” Carmelo Anthony told Bleacher Report recently. “I’m past that. It’s all about creating things now and putting things in motion. So, that’s what I’m on. I’m trying to get guys on board with that and help them understand that — enough of the gesturing and talking and all of that stuff — we need to start putting things in place.”
Remarkably, progressive organizations like Black Lives Matter, Priorities USA and the Education Law Center, which works to change unjust school laws in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, all declined to participate in this story or did not respond to requests for comment. That’s a sign of how polarizing Kaepernick is in society right now.
Even left-leaning public figures like Sen. Cory Booker and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have expressed they aren’t totally on board with Kaepernick’s methods. Ginsburg first called the protests “dumb” and “disrespectful” and then walked back her comments by saying they were “inappropriately dismissive and harsh. I should have declined to respond.”
Declined to respond? Kaepernick is presumably fighting for the same causes as all of those progressive organizations and officials. That’s indicative of the place athletes traditionally have in social issues, that they are to be seen and not heard.
Throughout history, when athletes have turned activists, they’ve mostly been shunned, penalized or ignored by politicians capable of writing new laws. Yes, their political statements have gotten lots of attention, but Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam didn’t end that conflict. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists for an iconic image at the Olympics, but the racial issues they protested in 1968 are many of the same injustices Kaepernick and today’s athletes are trying to curb today.
It goes both ways. Remember when Bruins goalie Tim Thomas refused to meet President Obama in 2012 after Boston won the Stanley Cup? Maybe not to the extent Kaepernick is being criticized, but the right-leaning Thomas was also vilified for acting on his political beliefs.
The sports in the back of the paper are traditionally an escape from the ugliness of what’s up front.
Knicks star Carmelo Anthony (l.) says he’s ‘past the gestures.’
(Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
We’re seeing it again today as many NFL fans have shunned pro football games on TV this season. Ratings are reportedly down 10%. According to a recent Yahoo Sports poll, 40% of those who claim they are watching less football this year cite Kaepernick’s protests as why they’ve tuned out. (More than half of those respondents are over 55 years old, signaling a generational divide and shows the same people that probably shunned Ali in the 1960s are again shunning Kaepernick in 2016.)
“For some, the athlete as activist is a welcome evolution of using status for platform,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote earlier this year in Time magazine. “For others, it’s a sign of End Times, Sports Edition, in which athletes have shattered the fourth wall of sports theater. What if, now that athletes have found their voice, they won’t shut up? The genie is out of the locker and no amount of Ace bandages will bind him back to muteness.”
Athletes typically stick to easy issues. For example, you don’t see a whole lot of backlash against jocks who promote literacy or feed the homeless.
“There are different degrees of acceptability the general public might find with a particular athlete’s activism,” said Michael Giardina, a professor at Florida State University who has studied the role of the activist athlete in American society.
Sports mostly likes to keep its politics quiet. But the two are more intertwined than you’d think, and it’s not just the athletes.
According to the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, NFL owners have contributed more than $2 million to Republican candidates in the last year. The Ricketts family, which owns the World Series-bound Chicago Cubs, was planning to spend $1 million in support of Donald Trump’s campaign this fall.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg admits she’s not a fan of Colin Kaepernick’s actions.
But this year, thanks in part to the voice that social media has given them and the celebrity culture we live in, athletes like Anthony and Kaepernick have taken advantage of their platforms and injected themselves into a deeper conversation. Athletes have always garnered a huge amount of publicity, which can help to start the conversation and bring their message to the masses.
Now comes the hard part. Now the message is out there, it’s part of the public discourse and they have a responsibility to carry it forward and not let it ring hollow or die on the vine. It’s one thing to change how people think and quite another to change the laws that govern their actions.
“It is harder, of course, to draw a causal relationship between Kaepernick’s protest and any effect it might have on stemming, say, police brutality,” Giardina said, “but his actions are contributing to a broader conversation over an issue that has been percolating in the U.S. over the last few years.”
One group working on the ground level to empower downtrodden communities and solve many of these social problems in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is Action United. Groups like these have been fighting for the kinds of changes Kaepernick has talked about for years. Philadelphia, with a 12% poverty rate and more than 200,000 people living in deep economic distress, is considered the poorest big city in the country.
“The overarching need of social activist groups like ours is in actual legislation change through organizing that has teeth to bring about culture changes,” Jordan Ford, the organizing director for Action United, told the Daily News. “Because it’s not just the electeds that need to change the thought process. We need better legislation that affects everybody, that actually fights for the oppressed. We need people to make decisions in their own lives so they establish mandatory practices.”
Ford credits Kaepernick for getting people to talk about these problems, but like many social activists, he understands it will take a lot more than just taking a knee to change and improve lives.
Players in the WNBA have led the charge when it comes to activist athletes.
Kaepernick has pledged to donate money to similar groups. The 49ers promised the San Francisco Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation $1 million each in recognition of the challenges local communities face. But those organizations both said it’s too early to tell what that money will be used for.
What’s really needed to make a difference goes far beyond an athlete making a promise or taking a stand.
“People in the community notice it and they appreciate it, but I wouldn’t say it trickles down,” Ford said. “When an athlete or a celebrity takes a stand like that, it signals to the rest of America that has not been paying attention that this is something they should be paying attention to.”
Kaepernick and other NFL players taking a knee have received more attention than other activist athletes like Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, the many WNBA players who have protested, and even LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, who stood up at the ESPYs in what seems like eons ago and urged other athletes to take a stand.
“When celebrities donate money to a progressive organization to do this kind of work, it shows this is something you should look to get involved in,” Ford said. “It lends an air of legitimacy.”
The proverbial train has left the station. Now it’s up to these tough-talking athletes to carry it forward. It’s no longer about a protest or a T-shirt or a donation or as Anthony says, a “gesture.” The true measure of what’s been started is where it goes from here.
Because talk, especially when it comes to these issues, is so cheap.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News