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Solidarity means more than taking a knee

By Winford K. Rice Jr.

Last year, during an NFL preseason game, Colin Kaepernick practiced his constitutional right to silently protest by sitting during the national anthem. Through the course of the season, his actions garnered national attention, sparking much consternation.

Kaepernick’s initial actions were meant to convey his dissatisfaction with race relations, utilizing the platform he had in hopes of ameliorating the structural mistreatment of African-American citizens.

Last week, President Donald Trump tempestuously called for NFL owners to terminate players who refuse to pledge their allegiance to the flag or kneel during the national anthem as a form of public resistance.

Trump’s use of inflammatory expletives, labeling professional athletes who kneel as “sons of bitches,” was covertly racialized and euphemistic. His statements schematically deviated from the issues at hand, which converge at the nexus of race, politics and social inequity.

Further, his rhetoric distracts our attention from conversations that are necessary for social transformation regarding the inherent worth of African-American citizens and whether or not one should kneel during the national anthem.

This dichotomizing is an over-simplification of the subject matter and cloaks the ways in which white supremacy materializes in the various facets of the public sphere.

Neither Trump nor NFL general managers can prohibit athletes from acting as moral agents amidst sporting competition.

Thus, the notion that players should simply stick to sports is an erroneous equivocation. Athletes are not divorced from social realities and tend to be considered role models by virtue of their fame.

In fact, history is replete with professional athletes who have protested ongoing socio-political inequality to exemplify their discontent. Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, John Carlos and Tommie Smith are among the names that come to mind.

Colin Kaepernick merely exists within a historical continuum and functions as a catalyst for social change on this spectrum. His refusal to patronize the national anthem and American flag is not unpatriotic, but is indicative of the racial dissemblance and perennial hegemony in our country.

In efforts to refute Trump’s commentary, some non-black managers, players and coaches demonstrated their disapproval by locking arms, kneeling or skipping out on the national anthem altogether in unifying fashion. While these demonstrations are commendable, they do not address the crux of the quandary.

Kaepernick’s protest has unequivocally revolved around the deplorable maltreatment of African-Americans, mainly police brutality. If non-black players and executives wish to embody moral courage, perhaps it is incumbent upon them to divest from their capital and speak out against the moral and civic injunctions that plague African-American citizens, instead of remaining complicit with their privilege.

Winford K. Rice Jr. is from Suffolk and is a graduate of Morehouse College and Harvard University. Email him at winford_rice@mail.harvard.edu.