It was fascinating listening to sports talk radio the week after Colin Kaepernick’s ill-fated “try-out” for NFL scouts. Talking heads from WFAN 660 in New York City, to ESPN Radio featuring the Golic boys, or Mad Dog Sports Radio on Sirius-XM featuring “Morning Men,” and of course Christopher Russo, the “Mad Dog” himself all spent considerable amounts of air time telling their multitudes of listeners how Kaepernick’s workout was a waste of time, and that there was nothing to see here. In other words, they spent a lot of time talking about something they said wasn’t that important.
Mike Francesa, the venerable highly-rated afternoon drive-time radio host on WFAN placed a pox upon everybody’s house. He claimed that everybody owned this clown show. The NFL was trying not to be sued, Kaepernick was looking to market himself and make money, and of course the media was complicit in falling for all of it. One of Francesa’s famously enlightened listeners went so far as to ask why it always has to be about race. I’m not sure what “it” was, but the caller was indeed sick of the racial aspect. He then complimented the President for standing up against this phenomenon, and stated that if Kaepernick wants to elicit real change, he should talk to Jim Brown, the legendary running back from the 1950s and ’60s who has been an outspoken champion of civil rights in our country. Francesa, after complimenting the views of his caller, went on to say that Brown has his own thing, whatever that means. Francesa is, of course, an outspoken supporter of this president, and has never failed to point out the superiority of a white athlete over comparable African-American ones, i.e. Mickey Mantle over Willie Mays, Bill Walton over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird over Magic Johnson, etc…
Christopher “Mad-Dog” Russo took it a step further and basically dared Kaepernick to put his money where his mouth is (as if he hasn’t already). He said that Kaepernick should spend all of his time and money helping children, feeding the homeless, and basically living a life that would make Mother Teresa look like, well, Donald Trump. Russo has also been quoted as recently as a couple of weeks ago arguing that he wished athletes would never get involved in politics, and would just keep their mouths shut and play ball.
I can understand, to some extent, where he’s coming from. After all, so many of us turn to sports to escape the rantings of the current president, or whatever other stress and strife we may be surviving. For our own sanity, we need a place to escape and just indulge our guilty pleasures. However, there’s also something disconcerting having one upper-middle class white broadcaster after another discuss what a phony, or pain in the neck Kaepernick is, without once attempting to understand what he is protesting and even how the concept of protest actually works.
Rarely have I ever heard any of these broadcasters mention why Colin Kaepernick began his protest or whether the issue he was protesting had any validity. Instead, he is painted as a rabble-rouser who has disrupted the status quo. But, since when was protest not supposed to be disruptive? I wonder how many Americans today would have objected to Martin Luther King Jr., disrupting traffic and causing tension throughout the country had they been around in the 1950s and ’60s. Silent protests are historically ineffective. I’m pretty sure Gandhi didn’t organize his protests by saying to the British, “We’ll be over here quietly behaving while you reconsider the salt tax.” Gandhi was a pain in the ass. Just look at what Winston Churchill said about him: “Gandhi should not be released on the account of a mere threat of fasting,” He later added on another occasion, “We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.” Who knew that the great Winston Churchill could channel Seth from Staten Island?
Today you hear the same critics of Colin Kaepernick, who wish he would just go away, or shut-up and play football, wax poetic about people like Jimmy Brown, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and of course the heroic Jackie Robinson. These great athletes were not exactly wallflowers. None of them “played the game,” that the white dominated media wanted them to. They could be surly, loud, boastful, difficult, and resentful. They often stood up against faux patriotism, embraced their “blackness,” and refused to be seen and not heard. Not surprisingly, there was a price to pay for their insolence. They were called traitors, cowards, ungrateful, Communists, uppity, accused of not knowing their place, and in general copping an uncooperative attitude. Sound familiar?
Many in the media, as well as a multitude of sports fans, are torn on what their expectations are for the modern African-American athlete. Back in 1971 it was clear who white America wanted for their heavyweight champ. White Americans overwhelmingly favored Smokin’ Joe Frazier over the loud-mouthed upstart known as Muhammad Ali, who many African-Americans rooted for. Today, the media praises Ali unconditionally as a hero and a pioneer, just as they do for Jackie Robinson. LeBron James is one of the most universally loved athletes on the planet, but he suffered a nasty verbal slap-down from the Fox News crowd who told him ostensibly to shut-up and dribble when he came out against alleged police brutality against young African-American men.
We are a nation that struggles to see things outside of our own point of view. We are outraged that Colin Kaepernick, a man who’d been given a chance that most young men would kill for, and has made more money than most people could even imagine, would thumb his nose at that life and bite the hand that fed him. How could he disrespect our nation, a nation that has given him this incredible opportunity? (Ingratitude is a huge sticking point for those who think athletes should “stick to sports.”) Well, if not him, than who? Who else had a better public forum than an NFL quarterback, a man of privilege, a man who has so much to lose. Where are the accolades for this man? I wonder if Colin Kaepernick takes solace in the knowledge that eventually Muhammad Ali was called a hero by a majority of the American people…after he contracted Parkinson’s disease of course. The other day on social media I saw that somebody had posted a picture of Kaepernick’s jersey being used as a mat on the floor of a restaurant, in effect so it can be used as a place where people could wipe their feet. Post- racial America is not as “post” as most would like to believe.
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