The recent controversial decision by NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem has become a talking point both north and south of the border. On Aug. 26, the 28-year-old San Francisco 49ers second-string quarterback refused to stand during the playing of the anthem in a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Stadium. What began as a quiet, passive protest, has now become a movement against racial inequality and police brutality.
Kaepernick made way for more professional athletes to take a stance on what they believe in. Now the effects have trickled down through the American college ranks and north of the border. Although no Durham College (DC) or University of Ontario (UOIT) athletes are known to have made similar demonstrations, there is no better place to start a conversation than a university or college campus.
Police shootings of African Americans have been a growing issue in the U.S. in recent years. The effects have shaken the country as a whole. National newspapers from The New York Times, Fortune Magazine and the Army Times, have printed their opinions on the matter. Twitter feeds have been buzzing. Even Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, remarked on Kaepernick’s point of view in an interview. Last weekend, The Toronto Star reported tailgaters at New Era Field, Buffalo, were selling T-shirts printed with a kneeling Kaepernick framed in a rifle’s crosshairs.
People are uneasy. Additionally, African Americans’ trust in the police is extremely low. There are daily protests, which sometimes turn violent.
Kaepernick has taken a knee as a way to make a stand against this police violence. He says he cannot support a country that allows this to happen. “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” he said.
The public reaction to his stance has been mixed. Some understand. Some are mad. Some are supportive. Among his supporters are notable athletes from different sports and leagues. Players have been seen kneeling in the WNBA, NCAA and even on the US national women’s soccer team.
Historically, professional athletes have been criticized for not speaking out on social issues. However, there are some notable exceptions. Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player, Jackie Robinson, championed a non-violent stance on segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. U.S. sprinters, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, made a bold political statement by raising their black-gloved fists on the podium at the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968 during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” in support of the Black Power movement. Lastly, in 1967, Mohammad Ali forfeited his heavyweight boxing title and was convicted of draft evasion, when he refused to join the U.S. army fighting in Vietnam, for political and religious reasons.
Nonetheless, never have this many athletes, this many races and representatives from all social backgrounds united to demonstrate against social injustice at one time. Not only are professional athletes getting much of the attention, but also NCAA athletes across multiple sports have joined in the protests. These are the professionals of the future.
The protests have started a conversation in Canada but so far, no action has been reported in the collegiate ranks. Locally, at DC and UOIT, players are aware of the situation south of the border. However, DC athletic director Ken Babcock, and other coaches have been reluctant to address the situation with the players. “We don’t get involved in political stances, especially since it’s south of the border,” said Babcock. “Our students are entitled to their own opinions.”
The Canadian collegiate ranks may have not joined in the protests yet but professional teams have. The Toronto Raptors did not kneel during the American and Canadian National anthems in Vancouver earlier this month, but they did link arms as a sign of solidarity.
Although nothing has been documented at DC or UOIT about athlete demonstrations, with the high level of media coverage, this conversation has started. With a student population of over 20,000, social issues such as police violence and racial inequality should be a hot topic among students who want to take a step towards progress.
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