What do a 28 year old professional American Football star and a feminist born in the 19th century have in common? More than one might expect.
The start of the 2016/17 NFL season has so far been overshadowed by the actions of Colin Kaepernick, the back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
For those who don’t know, Kaepernick caused controversy by remaining seated during the singing of the US national anthem during a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers.
During a post-game interview he explained:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Kaepernick’s stance was taken as a result of a number of well documented shootings in the US involving the Police and in order to raise awareness of issues affecting minorities in the US. Whilst many were quick to chastise Kaepernick for failing to respect Veterans and the American flag, the 49ers released the following statement:
“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
Sports stars are often accused of being overpaid and/or failing to fulfil their obligations as role models however when they do choose to speak out on controversial national issues, such as this, they are equally rebuked.
Sport has a long history of political protests.
One of the most famous being the Black Power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium for the 200m at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Smith and Carlos were similarly protesting that the civil rights movement in the US had not gone far enough – Smith has since come out in support of Kaepernick.
Mohammed Ali publically considering himself a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, the sporting boycott of South Africa during Apartheid and Robbie Fowler incurring a fine from UEFA for publically supporting the cases of 500 Liverpool dockers who were sacked for refusing to cross a picket line are other such examples.
However perhaps the first to gain notoriety for protesting at a sports event was Emily Davison, an English suffragette, who died whilst trying to throw a “Votes for Women” sash around King George V’s horse, Anmer, during the 1913 Epsom Derby.
As for Kaepernick, his stance has since been followed by a number of other American Football players at games on the opening weekend which coincided with the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. It has also been followed by US soccer player Megan Rapinoe and celebrities such as Chris Brown.
Oh, and his #7 jersey has become the best-selling jersey in the NFL.