What Donald Trump Can Learn From Colin Kaepernick
Donald Trump should take a few lessons in leadership from Colin Kaepernick, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin, and other NFL players who bravely use their platforms to lift the voices of the least powerful, and do so in a way that honors this country’s deep and important protest tradition.
Last year, Colin, a 29 year old Pro-Bowler with a 126 million dollar contract, took a knee during the national anthem to protest police shootings of unarmed citizens and other injustices in the criminal legal system. He took a knee for Eric Garner, a man who NYPD officers choked to death even as he pleaded — “I can’t breathe.” He took a knee for Walter Scott, a man in North Charleston, South Carolina, whom a police officer shot in the back while Scott was running away. He took a knee for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, for Tamir Rice in Cleveland, for Michael Brown in Ferguson, and for the hundreds of other disproportionately black, mostly impoverished, often unarmed people that police officers kill each year.
Colin’s bravery cost him dearly. Kaepernick’s worst season in the NFL is demonstrably better than the best season many quarterbacks in the league right now have ever had. But he can’t get a job. Many teams who desperately needed a solid starter, or even a reliable backup, this season ignored Colin Kaepernick at their own expense.
Jim Souhan, a respected sportswriter in Minneapolis who covers the Vikings, said it best in his piece entitled “The Vikings Should Have Gambled on Colin Kaepernick.” After a brutal loss for the Vikings, Sohan wrote:
Last year, Keenum threw nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions before being benched. Last year, Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick is bigger, stronger, faster, possesses a better arm and has been a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl, where he came within one pass of winning.
The NFL has conspiratorially blackballed Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the unjustified shootings of black Americans by police.
Some owners don’t want him on their team, wrongly conflating a peaceful protest with an attack on our country or our soldiers.
There is no comparison between Keenum and Kaepernick. The Vikings and other teams decided that they prefer comfortable losses to uneasy victories. Sunday’s loss was about as comfortably numbing as they get.
I haven’t been able to shake what Souhan said. Not just the Vikings, but the Browns, the Bengals, the Colts, the Bears, and the 49ers — all winless — made the exact same decision that they, too, preferred “comfortable losses to uneasy victories.”
This is not OK.
Colin Kaepernick did not break the law. He is an upstanding citizen. He has never been arrested. He has never been suspended. In fact, what he did do, by taking a silent knee during the National Anthem to protest injustice and police brutality in America, didn’t even violate NFL rules.
But here he is — in essence — fired, terminated, banned even, from the NFL during the prime of physical career. Yes, I know that the NFL doesn’t hire quarterbacks — the 32 individual teams do — but it is clearer now than ever that what we are watching is absolutely not a football decision.
Both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, arguably the two best quarterbacks in the NFL, and two of the best quarterbacks of all time, have each argued that Colin Kaepernick deserves to be in the league right now. Colin has led teams to victory against each of those men on their own fields. Yet players that have never made it to the playoffs once in their career, that have never defeated the Packers or Patriots at home, have jobs and Colin Kaepernick does not.
What we are witnessing is the unethical, immoral sacrifice of Colin Kaepernick’s career because he dared to take a quiet stance against injustice in America. It’s wrong. It’s gross. It’s unfair.
Here’s the thing, though. When Colin took a knee, took a risk, took a stand against an unjust criminal legal system, he helped to ignite a movement.
Yesterday, Donald Trump called them sons of bitches, the NFL players who take a knee each week during the national anthem to protest injustice in America. But that just shows how little Donald Trump knows about protest, about speaking up for the voiceless, about putting your money where your mouth is. Trump calls them sons of bitches, and I call them heroes.
Donald Trump is a man that uses his power and platform to crush our most vulnerable neighbors. Whether he’s promising to build a wall to keep out hard-working immigrants; ordering ICE to round-up and deport people who have made a living and a life in this country; or pushing to strip health care from millions of people, Donald Trump is the antithesis of Profiles in Courage.
By contrast, Colin Kaepernick is a man of impeccable character and integrity. This past season his teammates voted to give him the highest honor available for his life on and off the field. Just this past week the NFL Player’s Association gave Colin their Community MVP Award for his outstanding community service and generosity. And now he is a man without job — standing up for his values cost him everything. But do you know what Colin does when he’s down on his luck? He continues to donate money — over $900,000 and counting — to fight injustice. He spends his weekend handing out suits to formerly incarcerated citizens who are returning to their communities and looking for jobs. He’s a man who puts his money where his mouth is.
Colin isn’t alone. Malcolm Jenkins, the standout safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, who raises his fist each week during the national anthem, like Colin, has donated from his clothing line to provide dress clothes for returning citizens who need a job and a second chance. Along with Anquan Boldin, who retired from the Detroit Lions this year to focus on philanthropy, Malcolm is helping to lead the push for Clean Slate legislation in Pennsylvania, which, if passed, would automatically seal the records of people convicted of certain low level offenses after ten years. Both Malcolm and Anquan also have spoken against life without parole for juveniles (America is the only place in the world that has such sentences), pushed to end cash bail (which keeps people locked up based on their poverty, not their safety risk), and pressed against the long mandatory minimum sentences that fuel mass incarceration.
When these guys take a knee or raise a fist tomorrow, they aren’t disrespecting the flag or our country. These players are engaging in deeply patriotic, selfless, and brave protest to raise awareness to the injustices that persist in America’s criminal justice system. America would be a better place, if Donald Trump showed a fraction of the courage and leadership these players show everyday.