Trump is gone but we must remember who tried to keep Kaepernick out

IAN HERBERT: Colin Kaepernick became a beacon of hope in the wretched Donald Trump era but the former president made sure he paid a price… Now, we must remember those contemptible members of the sporting establishment who conspired to keep him out

  • Donald Trump’s presidency will forever be entwined with Colin Kaepernick
  • Kaepernick took the knee in protest of the killing of unarmed black Americans 
  • As Trump goes we must remember those who conspired to keep Kaepernick out
  • Just like Mesut Ozil and his stance on the Uighurs, Kaepernick showed courage

It is typical of Colin Kaepernick to have made no grand pronouncements as the wretched Donald Trump era – which, in a sense, has come to define him – came to a close on Wednesday. 

He shared a clip of Martin Luther King’s ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech a few days ago. That was all.

Joe Biden’s inauguration marks four years since Trump brought his divisive, lunatic perspective to the world order but it is also four years since Kaepernick last played a competitive game in the sport to which he had devoted his life. 

He knelt when the US national anthem played, refusing to express pride in the flag of a country where unarmed black citizens were still being regularly killed by police. Trump saw to it that he would learn how it feels to be ostracised. The NFL establishment fell in line. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has not played since.

Today is a day to remember those contemptible members of the sport’s establishment who conspired to keep Trump sweet and keep Kaepernick out. 

Colin Kaepernick made his stand by taking the knee, with his career massively impacted and forever entwined with the presidency of Donald Trump as a result

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, one of those who considered signing him, announced it was necessary to ‘speak to fans and sponsors’ before doing so. That was the same Bisciotti who stuck with former running back Ray Rice, who punched and knocked out his girlfriend, and linebacker Ray Lewis, who stood trial for murder.

There have been occasions over the past few years when Trump’s intellectually challenged outbursts have emboldened others to follow Kaepernick’s path. When he declared that those protesting in the same way were ‘sons of bitches’ and should be sacked, players found the courage and indignation to take the knee, too. 

The many who have expressed admiration for his stance have included Bruce Springsteen, Barack Obama and Serena Williams.

Yet Kaepernick has remained a pariah to many and seemingly unsignable, even after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer on a street in Minnesota last May had provided a reminder that he had been right all along.

As Trump leaves the White House we must remember those contemptible members of the sport’s establishment who conspired to keep him sweet and keep Kaepernick out

Of course, Floyd’s death also brought Kaepernick’s form of protest into the mainstream. It’s gratifying to see every Premier League game prefaced by some thought of a greater good, in the still, small moment of calm before kick-off. 

Yet rarely amid those shows of unity have there been discussion of Kaepernick, the man who gave us this gesture. Few know how it actually came to be in the first place.

Kaepernick had initially chosen to sit, rather than stand, as a form of protest before a pre-season game for the 49ers in 2016. It was a week later, after a conversation with Nate Boyer, the former NFL player and Green Beret who suggested kneeling was more inspiring than sitting, that he took a knee and a global gesture of communion with all those who challenge discrimination was born.

In her memoir, ‘One Life’, Megan Rapinoe describes attending a women’s basketball game between Seattle Storm and Chicago Sky just a few days after Kaepernick first knelt. She seems to have felt conspicuous but was inspired to follow his lead. 

Her resolve to make her sporting fame count in the fight against Trump eventually saw her record the now legendary video which she declared: ‘I’m not going to the f****g White House’, when asked whether she would visit if the USA team won the 2019 World Cup.

Kaepernick was ostracised, forced out of the NFL and was unable to find himself another club

But it is Kaepernick she credits as the individual who made her own form of protest possible – reflecting in the book about the awards for her contribution to sport and life which subsequently flooded in. ‘Were it not for his bravery, I would not be… at an event where powerful people celebrated one another,’ she writes. ‘While I was enjoying the best year of my career, Colin was still out of a job. He was out and I was in.’

The notion of stars bringing their celebrity and social media traction to vital causes has now become a part of the currency of sport. Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje’s work, aided by the savvy and global reach of JayZ’s Roc Nation’s agency, is hugely gratifying. 

But there was no material risk attached to either campaign. No gamble. Who would question the need to tackle food poverty or, Itoje’s concern, the lack of laptops for poorer children?

Courage is Mesut Ozil, tweeting about China forcing a million Uighurs into prison camps in Xinjiang province, only for Arsenal to distance itself from his comments and Yaya Toure, a fellow Muslim, to say he had been ‘wrong’ to make them.

Courage is Colin Kaepernick, looking for a way to protest when he knew that he would reap a whirlwind. No-one in sport has done more to advance the fight against discrimination and in time, he will be remembered as an individual who was on the right side of history. 

But he paid a price. Trump made sure of that.

Tennis stars’ shame Down Under

Do they actually know how contemptible and utterly ludicrous they look?

Some of the world’s best paid tennis players are currently grumbling about being holed up in Melbourne hotel rooms, where they are in isolation after their charter flight to Australia rendered them a Covid risk. 

Bernard Tomic’s girlfriend complains she has to wash her own hair. (‘I never wash my own hair. It just not something that I do.’) 

Novak Djokovic produced an open letter after facing criticism for his quarantine demands

Djokovic leapt to the defence of fellow players for a portrayal they have been ‘ungrateful’

Novak Djokovic says they should all be moved into ‘private houses.’ Yet while these individuals swan into the country for a pay-day, thousands of Australians are marooned in Britain and elsewhere because the more contagious Covid variant has led to strict limits on the numbers allowed home. 

The tennis players should count themselves lucky to be living their hotel existence. With a quarter of the Australian Open tournament field currently isolating, why is the tournament taking place at all?

Cricket needs to work on the collective 

Test cricket needs many more series like the pulsating Australia v India duel, which the Indians wrapped up this week. But only by bringing more nations up to the level will it become a regular event.

As Sam Collins and Jarod Kimber’s critically acclaimed film Death of a Gentleman revealed a few years ago, the opaque, unaccountable Cricket Council (ICC) has seen to it that a small oligarchy of three – India, England and Australia – have become richer, while the rest are left to get by on scraps as best they can. 

It’s putting it mildly to say that Sri Lankan cricket is not well managed, but the country’s sequence of dead-end two-Test series doesn’t help. 

It will all be rather meaningless this week if England again batter a Sri Lanka side just home from a pasting in South Africa.

Read this week: 

‘Working’, by Robert A Caro, the biographer and journalist who started out as a sportswriter. 

Relates the secret to a good interview being to resist the temptation to fill in the silences when interviewing. 

During silences, Caro scribbles ‘SU’ (‘Shut Up!) on his pad. Wisdom of the ages!

Watched this week: 

The brilliant ‘Lockdown Theatre’ event, in which Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Kenny Dalgish, Jurgen Klopp and Gareth Southgate chewed the fat for an hour or so. 

Glasgow stories of Ferguson giving a lift in his Austin Cambridge were new and priceless. 

Viewable here until 5pm Sunday January 24, 2021 for £10, in aid of Alzheimers Sports United Against Dementia.

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