As the 2017 playoffs arrives, it completes a season on the sidelines for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, parked permanently, it seems, by the National Concussion League for having the audacity to protest what he perceived as social injustice.
In a year when quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer and Deshaun Watson all went down with season-ending injuries, Kaepernick’s phone never rang. Forty other unemployed quarterbacks were summoned to fill in at one time or another. Kaepernick was not.
That will teach him for taking a knee during the National Anthem.
Kaepernick’s complaints started a movement that resonated all the way to the White House where President Trump decided that the solution was to fire all the players who dared speak out, who dared subscribe to Kaepernick’s position. The quarterback took a brave stand that may have cost him his career. He was not, however, the first athlete to stand up for what he believed was right.
Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali made his voice heard in 1967, at the height of the war in Vietnam. Summoned for the draft, Ali refused to serve, citing his Muslim faith. He also pointed out that he had no issue with the Viet Cong enemy and that none of them had ever treated him as badly as some racists in his own country.
Outraged by that, boxing authorities barred Ali from his sport for three years, robbing him of what should have been the most productive time of his career. Nevertheless, Ali made a successful comeback, regained his title and became perhaps the most revered athlete of the 20th century.
A year after Ali refused to be drafted, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos shook up the Olympics with their protest. Standing on the medal platform after the 200-meter race with their medals hanging around their necks, Smith and Carlos raised gloved fists, a symbol of Black Power protest for the treatment of minorities in their country.
Well, we can’t have this is the citadel of amateur athletics. The response was not to debate their complaints but rather to send them home, like delinquent children, dispatched to their rooms for bad behavior.
It was not the proudest moment for the Olympic movement.
Other athletes have spoken out, as well.
Chris Johnson was the third pick in the 1990 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets and a standout in the league. A few years later, he embraced the Islam faith and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. That was OK with the league, which already had Lew Alcindor morph into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But when Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the Star Spangled Banner – sounds familiar, no? – then-NBA commissioner David Stern suspended him for one game.
A compromise was reached. Abdul-Rauf, would stand for the Anthem, but while it was played, he would bow his head and raise his hands together in silent religious prayer. He became something of an outcast after that, though, and vanished from the NBA in short order.
Carlos Delgado’s protest came when the United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq following the World Trade Center attack. A peace activist like his hero Roberto Clemente, the slugger was angered by the devastation of the war and refused to acknowledge the singing of “God Bless America,’’ during the seventh inning of games.
Delgado’s protest was so private that some Toronto teammates were unaware it was happening. When it became public, he explained his position but later in his career dropped it.
Other athletes have taken stands, some public, some private, all angered by social injustice, all inspired to say and do something about it. When Colin Kaepernick did that, it made him a permanent outcast in professional concussion ball.