This tweet by LeBron James is a third-degree burn. Let’s just take a moment to enjoy it.
Now for more on professional sports and politics. (I only watch artistic gymnastics and CrossFit, so it takes some serious fuckery for me to follow American football and basketball unless Jeremy Lin is involved.) What I really want to talk about is what #takeaknee really means: it’s a protest against police brutality. It is not about protesting a president or disrespecting the military or mocking the American flag. The best way to understand this is to read what black athletes and thinkers have to say on the topic.
“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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “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.”
I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, [Colin and I] came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
But like most forms of protest that become a hashtag for us, #TakeTheKnee morphed into an all-lives-matter-esque, watered-down version of NFL players and owners against Trump. Never mind that Trump wasn’t even in office when Kaepernick began his protest. Of the teams who issued statements, seven mentioned the president, two used the words “social injustice,” two others mentioned working with local police departments and one of them (Seattle Seahawks) specifically said they were protesting on behalf of people of color.
It’s clear that NFL teams have no problem making statements when they’re being called out, but none of those statements were in support of Kaepernick, who, by the way, is still unsigned. And since the NFL knows it can’t kick every player who kneels out of the league, it decided to give players a day to protest how they’d like. In total, an estimated 150 players got down on a knee, and I’m willing to bet the number will never be that high again because the NFL still has made it uncomfortable for black players to advocate for causes that pertain to black people.
If you read these essays, you’ll understand why I’m pretty annoyed with white celebrities posting pictures of themselves taking a knee. This isn’t the Ice Bucket Challenge.