Iconic film actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte joined Roland Martin and the “NewsOne Now” show on the last day of August to discuss modern social activism in sports. Late summer days are usually littered with football predictions and power rankings, but it was San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to participate in a national tradition that caught the country’s attention at the opening of the NFL season.
While many have weighed in on the quarterback’s decision, from servicemen to his peers to political figures, few offered Kaepernick advice on how to best harness the polarization of his protest. During his interview with Martin (at 3:05), Mr. Belafonte explains what needs to be done in order for the movement to thrive and be most effective.
“What I would love to see… is a few hundred other black athletes take that as a symbol. It doesn’t affect the game, it doesn’t affect the way that it’s going to be played. It just tells you a lot about the people on the field are thinking in their every waking moments.”
“The Black community, no, let me go further than that, the American community — the citizens of this nation — are beautifully enhanced by being exposed to the fact that there’s dissatisfaction and there’s something they can do about fixing it.”
Belafonte’s words are pertinent because sports have been traditionally great vehicles for pioneering breakthroughs in race relations and social change in this country. Former Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Jackie Robinson broke color barriers with his unnerving will during a time when even his teammates resisted against a Black man playing professional baseball.
Texas Western’s basketball team fielded an all-Black starting lineup for the first time ever and beat an all-White Kentucky team to win the 1966 NCAA Tournament which helped integrate the college level.
Doug Williams, former Washington quarterback, won a Super Bowl in 1987 against John Elway and the Denver Broncos — disproving the myth that Blacks lacked the mental capacity to play the quarterback position.
Kaepernick, a demoted quarterback on a team that finished 5-11 last year, isn’t a big name in sports, but he is the right person to champion the fight for social justice. Though Kaepernick lacks the accolades of his predecessors, his selflessness, courage and commitment to his fellow Americans would make the old guard proud.
Despite the social media backlash, bigotry and hatred directed toward him, Kaepernick has remained steadfast in his beliefs. In fact, he’s become a patriotic beacon for others wanting to support the efforts to remedy racial injustices that plague our country.
Since announcing his protest, the 28-year-old signal caller has proven through his actions that he’s dedicated to his mission to see a more fair and just society for people of all pigmentations. Recently, Kaepernick committed $1 million to community organizations in the same press conference where he discredited sentiments suggesting he was anti-American for his criticism of the country’s social structure. After his jersey rose to become the top seller in the NFL as a result of the protest, the former Nevada QB announced he also would donate all the revenue made from his jersey sales.
San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York followed in his quarterback’s footsteps when he committed $1 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the San Francisco Foundation to improve relationships between law enforcement and the surrounding communities earlier this month.
Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross voiced his support of players Kenny Stills, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas and Jelani Jenkins when they kneeled during the national anthem in Sunday’s game when he told the Miami Sun-Sentinel, “These guys are making a conversation about something that’s very important topic in this country. I’m 100 percent in support of them.”
Teammate Eric Reid was the first to join Kaepernick on the San Fran sidelines but many more participants of the movement have latched on. Seattle’s Jeremy Lane, Denver’s Brandon Marshall, Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey and Robert Quinn of Los Angeles are a few names that have picked up the social crusade since the start of the football year.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) September 13, 2016
The 49ers QB also met with Nate Boyer, a Green Beret and former NFL long-snapper, about their opposing views and amended his action of sitting during the National Anthem to kneeling out of respect to the fallen members of the military. Boyer stood next to the kneeling quarterback in the team’s final preseason game during the anthem.
— Chris Law (@ChrisLaw) September 2, 2016
USWNT player Megan Rapinoe also kneeled in solidarity with Kaepernick earlier this month. Rapinoe sided with the quarterback‘s intention to have a deeper conversation regarding race despite the reaction of some fans and said, “It is overtly racist: ‘Stay in your place, black man.’ Just didn’t feel right to me. We need a more substantive conversation around race relations and the way people of color are treated.”
Members of various high school football teams across the country are also demonstrating their right to protest by kneeling. Unfortunately, many of them haven’t been received well when it comes to exercising their constitutional rights. A football player at Brunswick High School in Ohio kneeled and prayed during the anthem this weekend and was showered with hate-mail riddled with lynch-talk.
Change is uncomfortable. But change is necessary when the stars of the sports arena feel obliged to be the face of social justice. Change is necessary when some citizens of the most powerful country in the world feel the value of their lives hold less significance than others.