Prior to this year’s Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick played quarterback the last time the San Francisco 49ers appeared in pro football’s biggest game in 2013.
Since then, Kaepernick has been honored by human-rights organizations around the world while being blackballed by right-wing owners of National Football League teams. That’s because he chose to take a knee during the national anthem to highlight issues of injustice.
Americans have become so indoctrinated by ritual that few even bother to ask, “What does the national anthem have to do with football? They don’t play it at the theater. Why play it at football games?”
It would have been great to see every socially conscious player in this year’s Super Bowl make a statement against police brutality and racial injustice. Had such a statement occurred, it would likely have been done only by the black players. That is because, during Kaepernick’s 2016 season of defiance, white players proved unsupportive of the black players who took a knee.
What every player should have done was take a knee—after scoring a touchdown. Like-minded teammates should have done it alongside the scorer to make a more powerful statement.
Alas, it did not happen during the Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-20 victory.
During the embryonic years of football (a sport first played in America in the 19th century), a player who scored would drop to his knee and touch the ball down in the end zone—hence the term touchdown.
The time is long overdue for the NFL Players Association to give its members that history lesson. The NFLPA should encourage players to take a knee in the end zone rather than settle for being paid off by the NFL’s public relations partners who are more concerned with making sure that reactionary football fans feel comfortable.
More than 70 percent of today’s NFL players are Black. Kaepernick, the son of a black father and white mother, identifies as black. The NFL has banished him because many whites—egged on by Donald Trump—ignored the social-justice issues he raised and focused instead on the misperception that he disrespected the flag and the anthem. Those American symbols meant more to Kaepernick’s critics than the societal ills that provoke his righteous anger.
Did you know that prior to 2009, NFL players stayed in the locker room during the national anthem? That changed when the NFL accepted $5.4 million from the Department of Defense to turn the playing of the anthem into a “patriotic” ritual—and turn football players into props. Black players have the constitutional right to do whatever they want during the anthem. America is their country, too. The rights expressed in the U.S. Constitution should be exercised all the time—not just when a majority finds it convenient. Constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly must be taken literally—on the playing field and off.