I write in order to encourage a teachable moment regarding the treatment of Colin Kaepernick. Accordingly, if you are looking for a piece that furthers your narrative of the unpatriotic nature of his behavior, then you can stop reading right now because the forthcoming text is of no help to you. If you are looking for a piece in support of Kaepernick’s “by any means necessary” process being correct as the ends justify the means, then you too can also stop reading. This piece provides a moment for us to reflect on the message, reflect on our collective response, and provide context for reasons for the strong position to Kaepernick and his ultimate blackballing by the NFL.

Consequently, the NFL’s reaction to Kaepernick is troubling because the league never has and fails to grasp the full nature of Kaepernick’s protest. The narrative that is perpetuated not only misrepresents history, but also in a more dangerous fashion invents a storyline that creates new victims for Kaepernick’s message to confront.

Who was the intended target?

For the sake of context, I lived in the Oakland area for years. The area is vibrant, bohemian in ways and the people as eclectic as they are brilliant.

But even in my times in Oakland, the streets were littered with conversation of a police system that was “corrupt in its roots.” In addition, there were the officers facing sexual misconduct charges. It is from this vantage point that Kaepernick points to inept and inane responses to these abuses of power and their long history of historical context.

Kaepernick was not the first to identify these victims nor was he the first to identify those victimized for not being complicit. He is, however, the most high profile player since Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to suffer the consequence of his personal need to bring attention to these atrocities using his platform, the platform provided to him as an athlete employed by the NFL.

Why attack the message/messenger?

Let’s be clear, you can’t blame the NFL owners and executives for the pejorative nature in which Kaepernick’s protest has been received. But we must all question the nature by which we find discomfort with a true message but find contentment in creating a false narrative. Kaepernick’s protest was not about patriotism, the US Armed service or angry white Americans attack on black America. Instead, his protest by first sitting and then kneeling was an innocuous way, bringing further attention to a problem being faced by citizens of the USA everywhere, men, women, and children: societal problems black or white are everyone’s problem.

Why are we overly sensitive about Kaepernick’s “intended” message?

Many of those in power are natural cowards by nature. They were not the people getting into fights at 3:00 after school. They are deliberately conditioned to be non-confrontational, fighting only when financially necessary and only engaging in fights that are winnable. This strategic decision-making by those in power obscured the nature of the message and furthers a more palatable narrative and leaves the messenger with no protection. Those in power are sensitive as it calls them to action and puts them in a financial fight that may not be winnable. You must remember in sports we preach “family,” never say no to a teammate, but life teaches us that blood is thicker than water and money is thicker than blood.

Notwithstanding the nature of family in sports, we are also sensitive to our priorities being questioned. On its face, the elimination of Kaepernick makes no economic sense and we are reacting to the belief of his disruptive and burdensome nature if employed. This notion is created by some and propagated by others in the media. We want to rid ourselves of Kaepernick since we are convinced that he is a malcontent, a misanthrope and a cancerous presence, notions I might add that are supported by reasonable intelligence. So by getting rid of Kaepernick, by blackballing him, by rendering him unemployable, we have created a self-serving redemption against the message and for the narrative created. We are comfortable following the notion that Kaepernick’s message has every right to be heard as long as those in power control the message and TMZ is not around (see Ray Rice) to put their obvious self-serving spin on the “truth.”

Finally, we are sensitive for we are afraid of our own inaction being judged. But we are taught if we are out in front, we no longer must confront the intended message, but instead, provide context for the newly created narrative and our added embellishments: Kaepernick is no longer interested in football, Kaepernick can not play or my personal favorite Kaepernick should cut his hair. All of these excuses give into ignorance and provide credibility to all who do not participate in the teachable moment. Killing the messenger does not kill the message. Killing the messenger does not eradicate the memory of the crimes committed the Oakland police in question. But by not being sensitive to the message we assist in distorting the true crime and create victims of a victimless “crime.”

What is the teachable moment in Kaepernick’s statements?

Nevertheless, I believe WE missed a teachable moment with Kaepernick from the first afternoon he sat. We were led to believe that his protest would cripple the league, people point to polls that say they turned off football on account of Kaepernick and in doing so those same people created a justification for this player not being employed. I will not insult your intelligence by debating the latter; so let’s stay on task and on message. The teachable moment was to not marginalize the message; the teachable moment was to not succumb to grousing of the message Kaepernick was bringing into consciousness of our living room. Consequently, the teachable moment was empowerment and not to be threatened by the “fault of our stars.” As Cassius points out in Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar; “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…” As a society we must recognize tragedies as a call to action, leadership must provide context, foresight, and vision. By not seizing this teachable moment we allowed Kaepernick’s message to provide a public face to the wrong problem. The fault is not I Kaepernick but in “ourselves” for not taking this moment and teaching; teaching by giving the message the attention it deserves.

photo credit: Brook-Ward Kaepernick via photopin (license)