Friday, October 7, 2016

As soon as Kaepernick’s intentions were revealed — nobody noticed until he had sat through at least two preseason anthems — an entire ideology was ascribed to him. He was anti-American, anti-military, and in the most pustular of the internet’s lower intestines, it was suggested he was radicalized by a Muslim girlfriend. The issue, it seems, was never the issue; it was his suitability to be the one addressing it. He grew up as an adopted, biracial son of a wealthy white family. He had every advantage. He went from being a Super Bowl quarterback to a $12 million backup, and that word — backup — was fired with malice, meant to sting, as if the worth of a message can be gauged by playing time.

But then teammate Eric Reid knelt beside him in the final preseason game in San Diego. Soon, high school teams knelt. A high school band knelt — while playing the anthem. Peaceful protesters in Charlotte, North Carolina, facing police in riot gear, took a knee to link their cause with a quarterback who hasn’t taken a meaningful snap in nearly a year. A gesture began to feel like a movement, and soon backup lost its sting.
The gesture was intended to impose discomfort, and America’s grand systems were forced to respond. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said something beige about players’ rights and patriotism. Donald Trump told him to find another country. The Seahawks, in a made-for-NFL-Films moment, linked arms in a team-building, trust-fall form of anti-protest that looked like the sideline version of neighborhood gentrification.
In football terms, Kaepernick was dismissed as a distraction, that functionally vague term that suggests players are paid to be dutiful golden retrievers, chasing the ball until someone tells them to stop. Under this construct, being part of a team and kneeling for the anthem are mutually exclusive; one negates the mere possibility of the other.
 Tim Keown - ESPN Magazine

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