Written by Amal Matan
In the NFL’s preseason of 2016, following a summer strewn with prolific, violent public incidents of police brutality, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers knelt in protest during the U.S. national anthem.
What Kaepernick said after the game was a protest of words, a moral stand that would be transmitted to the world by a handful of camera lenses and microphones. He sparked a fire that has spread to other teams across different sports that have become emboldened to emulate his protest.
The controversy, push back and impact of the movement Kaepernick sparked has yet to completely play out.
What is known though, is that the consequences of his pro-Black Lives Matter statements would reverberate far outside the world of sports, reaching the White House.
Unfortunately, the earliest, most discernible cost of Kaepernick’s stand was his career.
If anything, the repercussions of Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest was a reminder that sports has been and will always be political. It can no longer be used as a political distraction considering racism is just as, if not more present on the field as it is off the field.
In the past week alone, President Trump’s comments at a political rally in Alabama explicitly encouraged financial discrimination against those exercising their first amendment right of free speech.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now? He’s fired!’”, Trump exclaimed to a cheering crowd.
Later, the President continued to elaborate on his infamous twitter account.
Later the NFL’s Commissioner, a significant heavy hitter when it comes to influencing donors, sponsors, etc., would respond to Trump’s firestorm of tweets targeting players.
New NFL statement pic.twitter.com/XHPgVvPPfH
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) September 23, 2017
Trump later took aim at the NBA when he “revoked” his invitation to Stephen Curry who had already reiterated that he would not be attending.
Curry’s statement inevitably drew the ire of President Trump, who reacted on Twitter, where LeBron James would respond with pure raw First Amendment fire in support of his court rival:
U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
After Trump’s Twitter storm, the Golden State Warriors released a statement, confirming that the entire team wouldn’t be attending in support of Stephen Curry.
Statement from the Golden State Warriors: pic.twitter.com/6kk6ofdu9X
— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) September 23, 2017
Trump would later applaud Nascar’s threat to fire any drivers who would attempt to kneel during the anthem.
Despite claiming earlier that race wasn’t a factor in who would suffer the brunt of exercising their right to protest, Trump’s congratulatory tweet to Nascar shows that race does, and always will, be a determining factor.
Worth noting the demographics of the athletes –
NBA: 74% black
NFL: 68% black
NASCAR: 4 black drivers in Cup history https://t.co/j2NVyhlwyy
— Brad Mielke (@TheBradMielke) September 25, 2017
While the current atmosphere cannot be wholly attributed to the rise of Trump, his presidency does and will continue to widen already existing divisions that embolden white supremacists.
All things considered, with the exception of Donald Trump’s uniquely juvenile persona, the political climate is an anxiety-inducing historical sort of deja-vu.
And yet, in the face of adversity and uncertainty, Kaepernick’s sacrifice and those of many others is a testament to Black resilience and strength.
The peaceful protests of some of the most visible, revered public celebrities have defined some of the most iconic moments in modern history. From Jessie Owens, who won four gold medals in front of a man who claimed the superiority of the Aryan Race, to the Civil Rights Era where the Greatest Muhammad Ali resisted the Vietnam draft, to now, as we watch history unfold in a post-Obama, Charlottesville-esque world.
This prevailing sense of urgency to publicly protest amongst athletes is an indicator–it marks a sense of urgency that is heightened with the threat of uncertainty that lingers around the question: what will three more years of a Trump presidency mean for marginalized communities?