Carlson: NBA boycott raises same questions Colin Kaepernick did four years ago — why isn't America listening?
Four years ago, on a beautiful August evening in San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick sat down on the 49ers bench.
The national anthem was about to start before the team’s preseason game against Green Bay, and even as his teammates stood in front of him on the sideline, the quarterback did not get up. It was the third time that preseason he sat during the anthem.
It was the first time anyone noticed.
A San Francisco beat writer high above the field in the press box took a picture of the field, a wide shot of the teams on the sidelines. But there, in front of the orange of the Gatorade cart, was the red of No. 7.
After the game, Kaepernick was asked why he sat.
He said he was protesting racial inequality, police brutality and the oppression of Blacks in America.
“To me, this is bigger than football,” he said, “and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
That was Aug. 26, 2016.
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This is Aug. 26, 2020.
The day the NBA stopped.
Back in March, the league put the brakes on the season because of the coronavirus, but Wednesday, it was the players who said, “Enough!” Minutes before the first of three playoff games, the Bucks walked off the court, returned to the locker room and refused to take the floor to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the Milwaukee suburb of Kenosha.
An hour or so later, the league and the players association announced that all three games had been postponed, including the Thunder’s game against the Rockets.
By the end of the day, the WNBA had stopped its games, and several Major League Baseball teams refused to play, too.
If you are wondering why this happened, why the Bucks refused to play, why other teams joined in, you haven’t been paying attention. The problems Colin Kaepernick was trying to bring to light four years ago haven’t gone away.
If anything, they’ve gotten worse.
Too many Americans refused to listen to him then. They didn’t push for police reforms. They didn’t demand better from their government leaders. They didn’t work to heal the racial divides in housing, education, health care and so much more. They didn’t even try to understand why Kaepernick felt like he needed to protest.
Instead, they said, “What about disrespecting the flag?”
“What about the military?”
“What about the veterans?"
What about. What about. What about.
Kaepernick and others kept saying his protest, neither the sitting at first nor the kneeling that followed, wasn’t about that. He and teammate Eric Reid even called on Nate Boyer for advice before they started kneeling. Boyer is a retired NFL player, but he is also a retired Green Beret.
He was the one who told them to kneel during the anthem.
“We chose to kneel,” Reid said at one point, “because it’s a respectful gesture.”
Still, Americans refused to listen. Refused to act. Refused to change.
And four years later, the carnage continues.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd.
Now, Jacob Blake.
Thank God, he isn’t dead after being shot seven times Sunday evening. Somehow, he survived those bullets in the back — he was moving away from the police officer who shot him — but his family says he is paralyzed from the waist down.
The shooting, which was caught on video, caused NBA players to say enough.
Are too many Americans going to refuse to listen again? Are they going to ask why the players aren’t outraged by Blacks shooting other Blacks? Are they going to wonder when the players are going to give money or do volunteer work or try to help their community?
Are they going what-about their way into inaction again?
If you are one of those people asking those questions, stop. Just stop. Stop your whataboutism, and ask yourself this.
What about Blacks being six times more likely than whites to be killed by police in America, according to a Harvard study that came out this summer? What about 45.8% of young Black children living in poverty compared to 14.5% of white children? What about decades of housing discrimination preventing Blacks from owning homes, the way most Americans build wealth? What about housing discrimination having a direct line to low tax revenues in areas with high Black populations, which means the schools in those areas have less revenue? What about the inequalities in education that have resulted from that?
What about all that?
Even as these issues have been raised by protests, not just four years ago when Colin Kaepernick knelt and not just now as the NBA, WNBA and others stopped but for decades before, we have refused to ask the right questions.
What are the players going to do next?
That isn’t the question.
The right question is — what are you going to do next?
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.