A columnist at USA Today Sports’ “ForTheWin” site, has proclaimed national anthem protester and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, the “most important athlete of the decade.”
For the site, Chris Korman hailed Kaepernick and his protests against the country, and even once accurately quoted the former player’s proclamation that he would never stand in honor of the country or its flag. But overall, Korman’s lionizing of the one-time San Francisco 49er wildly overstates Colin’s impact both on sports and the nation.
For his main assessment, Korman insists that Kaepernick is “important” because his protests “worked as intended.”
“He sat, at first, and then knelt during the playing of the national anthem,” Korman exclaims, “precisely so that we would talk about the issues he wanted us to talk about: police violence directed toward black men and the systemic racism that enables it and shapes so much of how we live and have always lived in America.”
But did he, really? Black Lives Matter had already originated the thrust of this protest, so Kaepernick’s protests really didn’t break any new ground as far as the argument over police brutality itself goes.
Still, despite the undue accolades, Korman is right that Kaepernick had an outsized influence on sports over these last three years. While a mere three years is hardly “the decade,” Kaepernick did, indeed, cause a kerfuffle that spread from the NFL to all sorts of sports all across the country (but curiously not outside the country — more evidence that he doesn’t really have significant influence).
In the end, Korman mistakes notoriety with importance. Kaepernick will not likely prove to be of great import. Korman, for instance, seems to place Kaepernick in the same class as Muhammad Ali, an athlete of real importance. The truth is, Kaepernick is no Ali. Even Korman agrees that, unlike Ali, Kaepernick has not become a vocal proponent and tireless activist for his causes.
“For his part, Kaepernick has avoided the public light — unless he has control over how his image is used,” Korman writes. “He very much started this fire but has rarely stoked it, repeatedly declining to sit for interviews for the myriad stories done about him.”
This is not the habit of a great social activist. In fact, since he left the NFL, the only time he has spoken up is when he was making money off a particular incident or event.
Even as he doesn’t seem to understand the significance of it, Korman gets kudos for actually quoting Kaepernick accurately.
In late August of 2016, after he was first noticed sitting for the anthem, he gave an exclusive interview to the NFL’s Steve Wyche to explain his decision — “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said…
Kaepernick detailed his position perfectly. He will never stand in honor of the United States. Strangely, Korman lays this quote on his readers, then immediately ignores its meaning.
Further, Kaepernick’s protest evolved from evidence of his strict hate for cops and America into some airy claim that he just wanted equality over the first two years of his protests. Originally, Kaepernick wore socks portraying all police as pigs, he wore t-shirts celebrating communist dictators, and he said in his own words that America was “never great.”
But once he left the NFL, his advocates began sanitizing his protests to turn them into a quiet, dignified statement only about “police brutality.” It wasn’t. In his own words, and with his own actions, it was never just about that.
It is true that Kaepernick absolutely became notorious when he began his protests in 2016. For many, his name has become synonymous with anti-Americanism. But even for those who love him and his protests, his name stands for disgruntlement and angst. In other words, to those who pay any attention to him at all and disapprove of him, his protests mean he despises the country. And those who agree with his protests also seemed to accept that his actions were associated with a negative view of the country.
Muhammad Ali truly stood for civil rights. Kaepernick does not seem to fit in that category.
This brings us to Korman’s assessment of what the Kaepernick effect has been:
The popular, cynical view is that nobody has ever changed their mind thanks to Facebook comment screeds. And, sure, I doubt your Marine uncle was swayed by the rhetoric of your freshman roommate (neither of whom you’ve seen or talked to in years) or vice versa, but Kaepernick launched literally millions of these discussions. Let’s not pretend that the culture remained unmoved (and, at the very least, people were compelled to state what they believe.)
To prove how effective Kaepernick has been, Korman goes on to cite the actions of a litany of athletes who joined Kaepernick in his protests against the country.
But, once again, Korman conflates loud, arm-waving by sports figures with real successful change. Tellingly, Korman does not cite any actual changes in laws, policing, or society in general that have occurred thanks to Kaepernick’s activism. The arm-waving, me-tooing, and showboating by athletes like Megan Rapinoe and the left-wing sports media does not necessarily equate to actual change. Korman mistakes the earnest head-nodding of the liberals with whom he lives inside his sports media bubble for real societal change in the outside world.
It is far more likely that Colin Kaepernick will increasingly become a sports footnote that most Americans will forget. Muhammad Ali became a world-renowned figure whose fame and influence was felt throughout his life and now into the decades after his death. But for Kaepernick, when 2030 rolls around, most people will likely have trouble remembering who he even was.
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