Last year former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to comply with the pre-football game tradition of reciting the national anthem. In protest of a rapidly proliferating culture of unrebuked police brutality, Kaepernick instead chose to take a knee during the anthem.
Most socially conscious people hailed Kaepernick’s bold demonstration of resistance, which he remained dedicated to throughout the rest of the football season. But others condemned the athlete for letting his political beliefs intertwine with his profession. Of course, the simple fact that the stance was done in the vein of the Black Lives Matter movement was reason enough for criticism from paler football fans. In the year since he first took a stance Kaepernick’s career has suffered. He’s also had to deal with his fellow and former football peers weighing in.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman recently came to Kaepernick’s defense, but he is one of few. Other black NFL players like Michael Vick, Kordell Stewart and Ray Lewis have been publicly wagging their finger at the former quarterback for not being a good ol’ boy.
During a Fox Sports interview in mid-July, Vick was asked to give his perspective on Kaepernick being blackballed by the NFL. Vick advised an afro-wearing Kaepernick to “cut his hair.” Kaepernick cleverly responded to Vick’s criticism by later posting the definition of Stockholm Syndrome to his Instagram.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) July 18, 2017
Kaepernick’s post implied Vick had been brainwashed for thinking he should blindly adhere to western standards of grooming. But Vick wasn’t the only one who found himself providing Kaepernick with guidance that he never requested.
On Wednesday, Total Sports Pro reported that Kordell Stewart also attempted to provide Kaepernick with some career counseling of his own.
“Stay off of social media,” Stewart said. “And when it comes to the political side of everything, you can express yourself, you can do it quietly…You don’t have to be so [loud], especially in this world of politics in the game of football.”
Just the day before, Ray Lewis gave Kaepernick some advice as well.
“What you do off the field, don’t let too many people know,” Lewis said. “Because they gonna judge you anyway, no matter what you do, no matter if it’s good or bad.” But with this particular incident, Kaepernick didn’t even have to school anyone on Stockholm again because his girlfriend Nessa Diab took straight to social media to back her boo. The witty “Girl Code” cast member used an scene from Django Unchained featuring Samuel Jackson’s Uncle Tom-like character to send Lewis a message.
— NESSA (@nessnitty) August 3, 2017
All of this brotherly advice has us wondering: just how many people can fit into the sunken place? Does it not reach full capacity at some point?
Vick and Stewart’s snide commentary points to a much larger issue of black respectability politics. Respectability is best defined by Macmillan Dictionary as “the quality of obeying the moral or social standards that are accepted by most people.” An every day example of respectability politics looks like this: You’re on the New York City subway and you have second-hand embarrassment by black teens being loud because you’re consciously worried about white people stereotyping all black people based on the actions of a few. The reality is respectability has not and will not save us.
We erroneously think that by constantly monitoring ourselves we alone can disprove racial stereotypes and change the way white people think about us. Attempting to eradicate someone’s prejudice is not just a far-fetched attempt, it’s also not our responsibility. At best, by assimilating to white people’s standards you’ll be perceived as the exception.
There’s a certain level of indignation that comes with living in a country intent on villifying your culture. Kaepernick shouldn’t have to apologize for vocalizing that frustration. Nor should he have to distance himself from his blackness. He used his presence in the public eye to make a statement. Many advocates looking to implement social change don’t have the same level of sway so he took one for the team.
Not everyone is cut from the same cloth of consciousness and that’s all fine and dandy. But what’s not acceptable is publicly condemning someone that’s fighting on our behalf. Most people won’t exercise the level of courage Kaepernick has, which is all the more reason his rebellion was necessary. Just because Vick, Stewart and Lewis aren’t willing to risk their public image over their political beliefs doesn’t mean Kaepernick shouldn’t.
While the men didn’t have to agree with Kaepernick, they damn sure didn’t need to publicly oppose him. Kaepernick’s use of Stockholm Syndrome as a response to Vick’s evident complacency to White America was spot-on.
What was most egregious about all of the Uncle Tom foolery was that white people were watching, reading and listening — just as we were — as the men criticized a fellow black man for standing up for us. It’s embarrassing. If they were adamantly against Kaepernick’s decision to put his pro-blackness on full display they could have sent homeboy a DM. Yes, some of them were asked to give input on the controversy, but as public figures they should have learned the art of curving questions by now. Rather than telling Kaepernick not to be “loud” about his commitment to racial equality, do our people a favor and be quiet.