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Solidarity with Colin Kaepernick

Alex Kerner

September 20, 2017

Last year, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests against police officers killing African American youth and facing no consequences for state-sanctioned murder, NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a stance, choosing to kneel during the national anthem. As he told the media when he started his action:

“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. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick continued his political protest throughout the 2016 season despite enormous levels of vitriol directed at him through the mainstream and social media. Much of it has been explicitly racist. Turning the other cheek, Kaepernick spoke eloquently about the issues of racial oppression in the United States and committed time and effort to campaigns and charities seeking to improve the Black experience and challenge racism.

By the end of the season, several other NFL players had joined Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem and speaking out against the unending violent attack against Black bodies. In acknowledgment of his leadership his teammates on the San Francisco 49ers voted him the team’s prestigious leadership award.


In the NFL, teams can release players under contract with no financial penalty and with Kaepernick set to be released by the 49ers, he chose to opt out of his contract and explore his options on the free agency market. However, he soon discovered that teams were reticent to sign him, often siting the “distraction” he would cause or explicitly expressing outrage about his decision to kneel during the national anthem.

While two teams, Seattle and Baltimore, considered signing him as a back-up, they both ended up choosing much lesser known players who had little to no NFL experience itself.

Instead the NFL season started with Kaepernick unsigned and truly awful quarterbacks either starting or backing up for different teams that refused to consider the former 49er. The long list of terrible starters includes the New York Jets QB Josh McCown, the Jacksonville Jaguars Blake Bortels, the Houston Texans Tom Savage (who got benched midway through week 1, and the 49ers Brian Hoyer.

As the second week of regular season NFL comes and goes, there is a chorus of fans and pundits asking the question that has plagued the NFL since Colin Kaepernick declared for free agency grows in volume: why hasn’t any team signed Colin Kaepernick?

Cover for racism

Unfortunately, some on the left are answering this question by reinforcing the ruling class narrative that racism has nothing to do with Kaepernick’s unsigned status and that his situation is entirely of his own making—first for choosing the be a free agent and then by being an poor athlete. In doing so, these leftists are providing a cover for what is undeniably a racist response on the part of the NFL.

Whether Colin Kaepernick is a top tier Quarterback is beside the point. Every credible pundit agrees he is one of the more impressive athletes in the league and good enough to be a quarterback in the league. Having taken his team to the Super Bowl in his first year starting and the NFC championship the next year, Kaepernick has had to work through injuries and an organization imploding the next few years. The 49ers management first sent off Head Coach Jim Harbough (a QB whisperer who made the most of Kaepernick’s physical abilities) and then hired a horribly underqualified replacement who lasted a year only to be replaced by Chip Kelly (who was even worse). Despite the turnover and multiple offensive systems, Kaepernick has managed to perform decently, being the only good player on the 49ers for the past couple of years.

Despite this, the NFL is in full denial mode that there is any collusion or black balling going on, insisting that the reason Kaepernick has not been signed is a football decision. Most commentators have called bullshit on this, noting the bottom of the barrel talent that fills the QB positions across the league. NFL stars like Richard Sherman and Aaron Rodgers have come out and stated that Kaepernick should be in the league. Sports Illustrated ran a long editorial piece noting that there was no football reason for Kaepernick to remain unsigned, and even notoriously obnoxious and right wing pundit Skip Bayless has called on black players to boycott in protest of Kaepernick remaining unsigned.


The growing anger about Kaepernick’s predicament has increased the call for a boycott, with the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP supporting such action and the federal NAACP threatening to follow suit. This culminated in an August protest at NFL headquarters where several speakers echoed the calls for boycotting the game.

The Kaepernick struggle is part of a larger fight happening in the United States around police violence and racism. It isn’t the only realm of this struggle, but symbolically it has enormous importance in many regards—be it fighting against white supremacy, or taking on retaliation against those who speak out against oppression in the workplace. Organizations like NAACP and BLM are asking for support on this issue and hoping that progressives show their support.

This context—including an explicit call for solidarity from the Black community—is the key question for leftists, especially white leftists and trade unionists. When local unions call for solidarity during a strike, would any self-respecting trade unionist respond by saying “you’re overstating your case and I think management has a point”?

The role of progressives isn’t to advance the arguments being made by NFL management or bigots to justify Kaepernick’s ongoing unemployment. We should be leading with unconditional support for Kaepernick. The fact that the majority of NFL punditry and many of the stars of the NFL (including Trump loving Tom Brady) are lining up behind Kap, should make it plainly obvious where leftists should stand on this issue. The role of progressives and of white progressives in general is not to use this occasion to demonstrate their extraordinary knowledge of football minutiae but rather to show solidarity, and amplify the voices of those resisting racism in all its forms.

Whether white workers are seen as allies to oppressed sections of the working class depends entirely on the extent to which white workers are willing to be tribunes of the oppressed—not just armchair pundits whose opposition to racism is only deployed under precise conditions.

The NFL Players’ Association just voted Kaepernick to be their MVP, despite his not playing in the league. This speaks volumes to the state of the struggle at present. The only question for white progressive is this: which side are you on? There can be only one credible answer: I’m with Kaepernick. Full stop.

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