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October 2, 2017 | by  | in Sports |
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Sport: Reclaiming Colin Kaepernick

Two weeks ago, across the United States, the grand tradition of NFL Sunday Night Football took place. It was a good day for football on the field, featuring down to the wire games and upsets. But at every game around America (and even London) there was an unavoidable disruption to the traditions that fans and commentators expect from this haloed day.

Over a year ago now, Colin Kaepernick began his protest against police violence and the racial inequalities that plague America. The protest was simple in its form. Since 2009, NFL players had been mandated to stand on the sidelines while the national anthem plays; so Kaepernick simply sat it out, on a seat behind the team, barely noticeable among the dozens of bodies that populate an NFL sideline. Since then, Kaepernick’s protest has dominated NFL storylines, even through a new season in which Kaepernick remains unemployed in a fairly obvious blackballing by the league’s 32 owners. Kaepernick of course has his supporters, and has himself been forthcoming in articulating his reasons for protesting, yet loud voices among the media and fans have claimed his actions are disrespectful of the flag, and therefore America, and therefore America’s great military heroes. Though a few players had followed in Kaepernick’s wake, no widespread action had taken place until two weekends ago when swathes of players in all teams sat out the anthem, while other teams opted to stand with arms locked, sometimes with their team’s owner, in a show of solidarity.

These actions, as unprecedented and potentially well-intentioned as they were, seem to wash away the meaning of Kaepernick’s original protest, as they are directly tied, not to police violence, but to the divisive force that now sits and tweets from America’s highest office. Where Kaepernick had sparked a conversation and opened latent divisions among players, fans, and owners, President Trump has managed to galvanise the entire league in opposition to his statements (which have called players’ “sons of bitches” and demanded their removal from the field), simultaneously subsuming the intention of Kaepernick’s original message.

This is most obvious in the participation of the owners who had heretofore been silent on the issue. Some of these owners donated millions and voiced public support for Trump during his campaign, and were now standing in apparent solidarity with their team’s players against him. These owners’ actions were not directed to even a notional idea of social activism, but were in reality a selfish display resulting from the threat to their autonomy that Trump’s tweets had issued; their actions were not just self-serving but deeply hypocritical.

What started with Kaepernick and his poignant display of dissension on America’s most watched stage has turned into a token anti-Trump message faced by billionaires that Trump has likely played a round of golf with. It is an encapsulation of the era of Trump in which the great orange behemoth is able to overwrite seemingly any narrative, centering himself while pushing the rest to the background. These protests will likely continue, and if we are to do justice in even some way to the intention of Colin Kaepernick’s original message, we must remember what it was and remain vigilant to the ways by which it can be distorted.

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