From Kaepernick to Jay-Z: The Evolution of a Social Movement

When the NFL's regular season kicked off in September 2017, it was met with a combination of politics and protest. A debate ensued among fans regarding whether or not to boycott the league since it appeared that Colin Kaepernick's protest a year earlier had prevented him from getting a job with a new team. Simlutaneously, there were fans who were boycotting because they disagreed with players protesting the national anthem while on the sidelines.

What initially appeared to be an isolated gesture in Kaepernick's kneeling in 2016 ultimately developed into a social movement this year, and it has continued to gain momentum.  However, civil rights activist and sociology professor Dr. Harry Edwards says that these events are reminiscent of movements we have seen before that lacked the necessary leadership to sustain itself.

Edwards told TSFJ that "ultimately, then, and notwithstanding 'pockets' of movement success (eg., the NFL-Player Coalition collaboration), the 'Black Lives Matter'-influenced and infused movements - both within and beyond the sports arena - seems most likely to follow the paths of the 'Black Power!' and 'Occupy' movements, where a lack of centralized management, goals and achievement standards, abetted by increasing conflicts, contradictions and disagreements over the legitimate scope, focus, goals and management of these movements led to declining communication, collaboration and coherence, then to confusion, and finally to collapse."

Below is a list of events that took place during the NFL's still unfolding regular season which helped to continue the conversation surrounding the intersection of sports and politics; events which even spilled over into pop culture.

9/6/17- Seattle Seahawks' Michael Bennett posted details on Twitter of an encounter he had with Las Vegas police on August 26th following the Mayweather-McGregor fight. Bennett's powerful description of what happened to him when he was detained by the police on a Las Vegas street illustrated in detail what it feels like to be an average black man who is mistaken for a suspect during what later turned out to not be a shooting nearby. This encounter reinforced Bennett's reasons for why with a single exception, he does not stand during the national anthem.

In the letter he posted on Twitter, the defensive end stated, "The fact is unequivocally, without question why before every game, I sit during the national anthem--because equality doesn't live in this country and no matter how much money you make, what job title you have, or how much you give, when you are seen as a 'nigger,' you will be treated that way."

9/11/17- ESPN's Jemele Hill calls Trump a white supremacist on Twitter. While responding to a tweet about Kid Rock, Hill's tweets evolved into a "calling out" of Trump and his association with white supremacists.  Although Hill later apologized to ESPN for painting her employer in an unfair light, that exchange on Twitter sparked a conversation regarding whether or not sports journalists should be allowed to publicly express their political opinions or if they should just stick to reporting about sports.

9/22/17- Trump calls athletes who kneel during the national anthem 'SOBs.' Teresa Kaepernick claps back: At a campaign rally (yeah, Trump is still hosting campaign rallies even though it's not an election year) in Huntsville, Alabama, he veered off topic when he made reference to Colin Kaepernick's protest and stated that players who disrespect the flag should be fired. Up until that point, Teresa Kaepernick had been keeping a low profile on her Twitter account. But when she tweeted that she is 'a proud bitch,' Mrs. Kaepernick became the real MVP.

9/23/17- Stephen Curry says he's not going to the White House and Trump 'withdraws' invitation. LeBron James called Trump a "bum" on Twitter.  Curry had pretty much decided he wasn't going to visit the White House even before they had been officially extended an invitation, and before the team had met to discuss it. Yet, Trump got wind of this and tweeted that he was rescinding an invitation he never extended. To which James responded via Twitter, "U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!"

This move by James to defend Curry on social media showed that even politics transcends a little basketball rivalry. Twitter recently announced that James' tweet was the most retweeted athlete post in 2017.

10/8/17- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tells the team that any player who is disrespectful to the flag during the national anthem will not be allowed to play. During a press conference, Jones told the media,"You understand? If we are disrespecting the flag then we won't play. Period. We're going to respect the flag, and I'm going to create the perception of it. And we have."

It appeared we had reached a point in this debate where everyone had lost sight of the reasons why the players were kneeling.

10/8/17- Vice President Mike Pence walks out of the 49ers-Colts game amid 49ers kneeling for the national anthem. Not long after the national anthem played, the former Indiana governor tweeted, "I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem."  Pence's stunt was met with criticism considering the amount of tax dollars it cost for the VP to travel to a football game just to make a political point. (Oh, and it overshadowed Peyton Manning's jersey number retirement ceremony.)

10/16/17- Colin Kaepernick files complaint against NFL owners for collusion. If this works out in Kaepernick's favor, it could be a move that not only shines the light on the NFL owners' actions this past season but sets a precedence for players moving forward.

10/27/17- Texans owner, Bob McNair, states during a meeting with NFL owners, execs and commissioner Roger Goodell that "we can't have the inmates running the prison." Draymond Green responds. Following McNair's inmate statement, the Golden State Warriors star spoke out via social media and a press conference. "First they were 'sons of bitches,' now inmates? Like I know some inmates. They don't pay taxes. They're not community leaders," Green said. McNair later attempted to clean up and clarify his statement but his apology failed to make up for his original sentiment. Players all over the league expressed offense to the statement via social media.

11/12/17- Jay-Z speaks about his support for the NFL protests at his concert in Miami. Jay-Z has always been vocal about his views on politics and social issues; especially as they pertain to people of color. "When people are kneeling and putting their fists up, it's not about a flag, it's about justice--it's about injustice," he spoke to the crowd. "And that's not a black or white thing. It's a human issue. Everybody should feel the same way. If your 16-year-old child left the house and didn't come back, everybody should be affected."

When Jigga endorses a protest that originated with one athlete by inserting his commentary about it into his show,  not only does it add "street cred" to the movement but it also strengthens its validity. His words proved that it's not just about a bunch of defiant football players who refuse to go with the status quo. It's about issues that are relevant to all walks of life.

11/13/17- Colin Kaepernick makes the cover of GQ Magazine as Citizen of the Year. The cover of GQ Magazine caught fire when they placed Colin Kaepernick on one of its covers where Kaepernick channeled his inner Bobby Seale. Although Kaepernick maintained his silence for the piece, he allowed his photos and interviews from his closest confidants to speak on his behalf.  Sometimes less is more.

11/19/17- Marshawn Lynch sits for the US national anthem, but stands for the Mexican national anthem. The Oakland Raiders running back has not stood for the "Star-Spangled Banner" all season, but by choosing to stand during the Mexican national anthem prior to the game against the New England Patriots, he took the protest to the next level, while getting the attention of Trump, who later tweeted about it.

12/3/17- Kaepernick is honored by the SoCal ACLU, gives a speech for the first time in many months.  It appears that Kaepernick has emerged as an activist and the community is acknowledging his work with accolades: here, it was the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award. If he never gets within 5 yards of a Super Bowl win again, he will have used his platform for a much greater purpose.

"We all have an obligation no matter the risk, and regardless of reward, to stand up for our fellow men and women who are being oppressed with the understanding that human rights cannot be compromised," Kaepernick stated in his acceptance speech.

12/5/17- Beyonce presents Kaepernick with Sports Illustrated's Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. When Muhammad Ali refused to enlist in the military and go to the Vietnam War, he traded in a lucrative boxing career for his own set of morals and convictions. He would later receive redemption professionally and personally. The irony of being a black man fighting a war against another group of people of color was that when that black man came home to the US, he was met with a host of civil injustices. Today, we are still seeing instances where people of color in the US are not treated equally within the justice system.

A year ago, Kaepernick stated, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Colin Kaepernick may very well be this generation's Muhammad Ali. His protest, much like Ali's in 1967, was meant to make people feel uncomfortable so that we could look inward at ourselves and the things we are or are not willing to stand for.

If this new wave of social discourse also lacks the leadership and vision to put a dent in its progress, where do we go from here?  "None of this is to say or imply that all of the 'Black Lives Matter'-based efforts, including the athlete activism and protests is wasted," quipped Dr. Edwards. "Rather, the message here is that a thorough knowledge and understanding of the LIMITS and potential EXPIRATION of such movements is no less important than a belief in a commitment to their potential. The athlete activist movement clearly falls within this context of consideration - and, so is 'on the clock' in terms of both its limits and its promise."

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