Colin Kaepernick has a right to a job

Activist and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines for the first time in months after he released a workout video on Nov. 23, making it clear that he is ready to play football.

The video’s release is timely given the wave of injuries and coronavirus spread plaguing the National Football League, taking star quarterbacks like reigning Most Valued Player award-winner Lamar Jackson out of play. Several teams are struggling to keep players on the field due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Denver Broncos even played without any of their quarterbacks on Nov. 29. It seems that they would rather lose than hire Kaepernick.

This award-winning quarterback has not seen the field since he was dropped by the 49ers after the 2016 season and became a “free agent.” Kaepernick is still being denied employment for courageously using his platform to protest racism and police brutality.

He created the symbol for a movement

The wave of kneeling protests that swept the country back in 2016 was initiated by Kaepernick. He sat during the U.S. national anthem for the first two weeks of the NFL pre-season. In the final pre-season game, Kaepernick kneeled and was joined by teammate Eric Reid along with Jeremy Lane then of the Seattle Seahawks, and it spread. 

Kaepernick’s actions were initially ignored. Once it was popular knowledge that he was “taking the knee” to protest racism, mainstream media outlets unleashed a demonization campaign against him. This did not work. He soon became a legend for his courageous stand. 

Even though Kaepernick was out of the league, the kneeling movement spread throughout the 2017 football season. Opposition by NFL owners to these protests came as no surprise. From 2012 to 2015, the Department of Defense handed out $6.8 million across the sports industry to promote the national anthem and hold pro-imperialist events that glorified the U.S. military. Yet, owners and league officials accused Kaepernick of politicizing the sport! Team owners expect their employees to participate in an imperialist propaganda campaign.

In 2018, the NFL banned kneeling during the national anthem. The ban broadcast a message that workers hear often: On the clock, you do what the boss says, when the boss says it. In practice, this denies workers their basic democratic rights. 

But attacks on Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement led to increased support for both. The racist and anti-worker ban on kneeling was promptly overturned due to public outrage.

Black and white players from all major U.S. professional, college and youth sports knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick and the movement for Black Lives following his departure from San Francisco. This spread worldwide, with athletes across the globe taking the knee to protest racism, and millions of demonstrators around the globe doing the same to mark the lives wrongly taken by racist police.

In the U.S., political protests by athletes have become common. In August, after Jacob Blake was shot by Kenosha, Wisc., police, the Milwaukee Bucks organized a wildcat strike that spread throughout the NBA and to the Women’s National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Yet Kaepernick, who started it all, remains unemployed.

On June 5, the overwhelming opposition to racism felt by football players and their fans forced Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, to do a complete turnaround. He announced, “We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.” These words ring hollow considering that the league management never apologized to Kaepernick and has left him jobless for three years.

Long history of activism in sports

Aside from protests on the field, Kaepernick took the NFL to court, founded Know Your Rights Camp, and has written about police and prison abolition. In November, he called for the release of revolutionary political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. 

Kaepernick’s struggle is part of a history of resistance in sports. In the 1930s, communists and socialists were on the frontlines of the movement to desegregate baseball. When Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947, they mobilized to attend his games and counter racist hecklers. Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the unpopular U.S. imperialist war on Vietnam and was stripped of his heavyweight title, sentenced to five years in prison (overturned due to popular pressure), and banned from boxing for three years. High jumper Rose Robinson refused to stand for the U.S. anthem during the Pan American Games of 1959 and was a proud desegregation organizer.

Anti-Blackness: the NFL’s elephant in the room

And then there is the racism of the NFL. Notably, the NFL has never had a Black team owner and went over 60 years without a Black head coach.

Quarterbacks are generally regarded as football team leaders, especially in the NFL. Black players have been excluded from this position for much of the NFL’s history. The first Black quarterback to start in the NFL was Marlin Briscoe in 1968. Briscoe fought to remain quarterback, but was soon converted to wide receiver. It was not until 2017 that all 32 teams had started a game with a Black quarterback. Despite the fact that nearly 70 percent of NFL players are Black, less than a third of teams have a Black starting quarterback in 2020. 

Kaepernick should be signed immediately 

In truth, NFL front offices (team owners, managers, etc.) are doing all they can to deny Kaepernick employment, despite his strong resume. Having his vast popularity for his courageous anti-racist stand on display from stadium to stadium is the last thing they want to see.

Colin Kaepernick should not be denied employment a day longer. Refusing to give him a job is an attack on Black liberation and labor rights. Activists from coast to coast have enthusiastically supported Kaepernick’s courageous stand against racism.  Now it’s time to support his right to a job.

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Demonstration in California this past summer. Liberation photo: Zach Farber

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