Sports, with a pinch of Politics: Why sports will never be the same.
Late last year, George Gittens, who goes by Dr. Natural, got a call from Nessa Diab, the host of Hot 97’s afternoon show. Dr. Natural is a holistic-health advocate in Brooklyn who has long dreadlocks and maintains a raw, vegan, alkaline diet. Diab was hoping Dr. Natural would speak at an event she was putting on with her boyfriend, a professional football player. “I said, ‘Cup-ernick?’ ” Dr. Natural said recently. “ ‘Who’s Cup-ernick?’ ” Diab clarified that her boyfriend was the San Francisco 49er who had knelt during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality in America, causing dozens of other athletes to join him in solidarity and then-candidate Trump to suggest he find another country. “I didn’t know his name,” Dr. Natural said. “I just knew him as the guy who took a knee.”
Early on the Saturday of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Colin Kaepernick, the guy who took a knee, walked onto a stage at the Audubon Ballroom, on West 165th Street, flanked by a floor-to-ceiling mural depicting Malcolm X. Kaepernick was hosting his second Know Your Rights Camp, and explained the venue’s significance to the 240 young people in attendance: In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated here while delivering a speech of his own. “There’s a lot of people out there that don’t want to see you succeed,” Kaepernick told the crowd. “But the people in this room do.”
Kaepernick was joined by three of his 49ers teammates at the all-day event, which covered the intersectional bases of modern activism. In addition to Dr. Natural’s presentation on the environmental importance of filtering your water and using a squatty potty, there were sessions on the history of policing, financial literacy, and college admissions. Carmen Perez, the executive director of Gathering for Justice, to which Kaepernick had recently given $25,000 as part of his pledge to donate a million dollars to social-justice organizations across the country, led a role-playing exercise for engaging with police. Dr. Natural didn’t believe Diab when she said they could get more than 200 kids to show up on a Saturday morning, so he hadn’t brought enough pamphlets on “maintaining a positive mental attitude.” “I’m sure some of the motivation was to meet Kaepernick himself,” Dr. Natural said. “But, hey, whatever works.”
Throughout the sessions, Kaepernick sat to the side, listening and taking notes, before returning to the stage to present the campers with several items to take home: swag from his endorsers (Nike backpack, Beats headphones), paperback copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, guides to eating vegan in New York — Kaepernick gave up meat and dairy a year ago — ancestry.com subscriptions to trace their roots, and T-shirts matching his own, which read I KNOW MY RIGHTS on the front and listed ten of them on the back, including YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE BRILLIANT.
It had been five months since Kaepernick first sat during “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the Audubon was many literal and figurative miles from the 70,000-seat NFL stadium where he launched his protest and from the cover of Time magazine, where he ended up. But the aftershocks were everywhere. The NFL playoffs were then careering toward a Super Bowl in which the two teams came to personify America’s sociopolitical fissures — the winning Patriots, led by friends of Donald Trump, and the Falcons, from Atlanta, where more than half the city’s population is black — and many of the commercials seemed to have been cooked up in a social-justice seminar rather than an ad agency. None of the players protested the anthem, but half a dozen Patriots, so far, have broken with the story line that their team equals Trump, and have said they won’t attend the White House celebration of their victory because, as one of them put it, “I don’t feel welcome in that house.”
Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
After decades of professional athletes largely choosing, as LeBron James put it, in 2008, “to keep athletics and politics separate,” Kaepernick’s protest was a culmination of several years in which they had begun to do just the opposite. In some ways, the superstars were just waking up alongside their generation, particularly as Black Lives Matter ushered in what now looks like the country’s most significant protest era in decades. But athletes also have enormous cultural and economic influence, and have started to understand how to leverage that for something more than selling sneakers. Leagues, teams, and brands are trying desperately to keep up. Earlier this month, when Under Armour’s CEO called Donald Trump “a real asset” to the country, Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors star, whom Morgan Stanley has estimated to be worth as much as $14 billion to Under Armour, told the press he agreed with the assessment, “if you remove the ‘-et.’ ” After Curry spoke to Under Armour’s CEO, the company released a statement walking back its support. “If I can say the leadership is not in line with my core values,” Curry explained, “then there is no amount of money, there is no platform I wouldn’t jump off.” A few days later, Nike released a 90-second ad called “Equality,” in which Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James appear in black and white as Michael B. Jordan asks, “Is this the land history promised?” Nine years after James spoke of a separation between sport and politics, he stood on a basketball court in Nike gear and made clear that times had changed. If we can be equals here, James said, at center court, “we can be equals everywhere.”
When Kaepernick’s protest first landed on the front page, in late August, and he suddenly became America’s most famous — and controversial…continue reading here.
Content Source: New York Magazine
Image Source: Jae C. Hong/ AP, Reuters