It’s a contradiction.
Just 3 months ago, it seemed like everyone, and yes I mean EVERYONE loved, supported and celebrated the GOAT, Muhammed Ali. A man who, aside from being the greatest boxer to ever live, was one of the most influential activists to ever live, in his own right.
As I mentioned in 7 lessons millennials can learn from Muhammed Ali, Ali literally changed the game when he refused to go fight in the Vietnam War for America. His reasoning? Take a look (again)…
….Let that sink in.
“You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.” Just replace “religious beliefs” with racial equality, and this speech could be recycled today.
Nearly 4 decades later, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has made a similar statement, silently, against racial inequality and police brutality by simply sitting during the singing of the national anthem before kick-off.
In a recent interview with ESPN, Kaepernick was asked if he will continue to sit. He responded, “Yes. I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
What’s really interesting, is that all disapproval and outrage is mostly coming from strong military supporters. Despite Twitter’s faithful #VeteransforKaepernick, those upset with Kaepernick’s silent protest claim that he is disrespecting the U.S. military and all who have served by ignoring the national anthem.
How appropriate would Ali’s words be, right now, at this very moment? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my rights here at home.”
Weren’t you all the same ones praising Ali’s name in June?! Talking about how he transcended race???
Or is it because he was….dead?
Because, when you’re dead…you’re no longer a threat, right?
When MLK was killed, he was no longer a threat.
When Malcolm was killed, he was no longer a threat.
When Medgar Evers was killed, he was no longer a threat.
When Mike Brown was killed, he was no longer a threat.
When Eric Gardner was killed, he was no longer a threat.
When Trayvon Martin was killed, he was no longer a threat.
When Sandra Bland was killed, she was no longer a threat.
When Philando Castille was killed, he was no longer a threat.
When Alton Sterling was killed, he was no longer a threat.
And now that Terence Crutcher and Keith L. Scott have been killed, they are longer threats.
In an interview with Complex, John Legend contributed some meaningful thoughts to this conversation. “Dr. King was unpopular while he was alive ― he’s only popular now because he’s dead and not a threat to anyone,” Legend said.
“But he was a threat to the status quo back then and the people, the so-called ‘moderates’ used to say, ‘Well, we’re with you, but you gotta be more patient. We’re with you, but you shouldn’t protest like this.’”
Legend explained that the problem with the reaction to Kaepernick is that “they’ll police your protest more than the things you’re protesting against, which is the real oppression.”
America is simultaneously throwing flowers on Ali’s grave while attempting to slowly dig Kaepernick’s.
Kaepernick’s protest could not be more timely nor appropriate. He’s bravely trailing the footsteps of Muhammed Ali, and paving the way for more athletes and celebrities with platforms to follow.
What Ali was ultimately saying in the 1960s and what Kaepernick is saying today in 2016 is, don’t continue to sit down on the racial injustices African Americans face, and expect us to stand.