So often this is how it starts; one man or woman decides they simply cannot take it anymore. So they don’t. Next thing you know, a movement has begun.
Such is the case with Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, who made the decision last season to kneel during the National Anthem rather than stand with the rest of his teammates. Kaepernick had grown sick and tired of the excessive amount of police brutality being routinely visited upon battered black bodies in America, and so he protested in a way he figured would attract the most attention.
In that, he most certainly succeeded. Stories about Kaepernick’s protest, and photos of him kneeling during the National Anthem, dominated the news cycles and talk shows for weeks.
Fast forward to 2017, and Kaepernick is back in the headlines – and in the middle of controversy. To date, Kaepernick, now a free agent, still has not been signed to a contract with any NFL team. Supporters believe strongly this is because the NFL considers him a radioactive negro ever since he became political. Just last Wednesday, Chicago club owner Kenny Johnson, a strong supporter of Kaepernick’s protest, decided to launch a protest of his own. Until Kaepernick is signed, neither of his establishments – The Bureau Bar and The Velvet Lounge – will show any NFL football games on any of their large TV screens. Both are within minutes of Soldier Field and would stand to benefit greatly from the considerable amount of football traffic.
“I was literally sitting in my bar and I had decided to do it, and then I just posted to all our social media sites that we were boycotting until Colin got signed. Because we believed in what he was doing,” said Johnson. “We have such a big violence problem going on right now in Chicago with police killing unarmed black men. It resonates here very loudly. When we had that big incident here with LaQuan McDonald shot 16 times, that really kind of put a spotlight here in Chicago. And I have two sons, and I don’t want anything to happen to them. I talk to my sons about standing up for what you believe in, and with no fear of repercussion.
“This was a way I could support him in a bigger way than just giving money to his foundation. …And I hope other bar owners will do the same, especially African American bar owners,” although that support has yet to materialize.
In the beginning it was just Kaepernick, all on his own, as the shower of abuse, ridicule and outrage rained down. And not all of that outrage was from white people either. More than a few black people – prominent black people – made a point of expressing their disgust, and questioning why Kaepernick was being so anti-patriotic. What they were really asking, truth be told, was why would Kaepernick insist on making the race look bad.
But then others began to kneel. And then came more. And now, this season, after it seemed like last year’s protest was likely to fade, Kaepernick’s stand against police brutality is once again catching fire due to the apparent cowardice of the NFL which figured they could silently ban Kaepernick from the league by collectively agreeing not to sign him.
And just like that, the protests heated up all over again. Many were wondering how could Kaepernick keep getting passed over and ignored – even to the point of dragging a mediocre quarterback out of retirement – simply because he was willing to take a stand against the brutalization of black bodies by those supposedly sworn to protect those bodies?
So far, Kaepernick has been joined publicly by nearly 30 fellow NFL protesters, including Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, defensive end Khalil Mack, Seattle Seahawks Michael Bennett, center Justin Britt, cornerback Jeremy Lane, and 11 Cleveland Brown players. In addition to his fellow ballers, the NAACP wrote a letter to the NFL to address the situation, and last week a rally of more than 1,000 Kaepernick supporters protested in front of the NFL’s New York headquarters.
“There’s been a lot of support, you can go on our media page, but then there’s been a lot of non-black folks that have responded crazy about it, you know? You ain’t s—, your bar’s gonna go out of business, we’re gonna buy your bar when you’re done, you should keep the politics out of your bar business, all sorts of stuff,” said Johnson.
Johnson expects that Kaepernick will eventually be signed, but if he doesn’t then he is prepared for the long haul as an NFL-free zone.
“It’ll hurt a little bit, but we’ll figure out some other creative ways to entertain people while they’re in the bar,” he said. “We’ll still be open, but we just won’t have football on, so it’ll be interesting to see how people respond when they don’t see the football games on when they’re walking to the games. It’ll hurt a little, but we’ll get by. If you think what you’re doing is right, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. If you want to speak up, that’s your right to protest.”