The football quarterback, the US president and a just stand

By TONY SEED (Originally posted on Facebook on September 4, 2016 and on on October 15, 2016)

An American athlete, Colin Kaepernick, has taken a just stand.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Mr Kaepernick, a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, told NFL Media in an interview after Friday’s game during which he again rightly refused to stand at attention during the playing of the U.S. anthem accompanied by a military flypast. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Instead of simply supporting that just stand and the right to conscience and confronting the issues he has raised, every secondary and diversionary issue is being raised in the most defensive and apologetic way by the alternative media, alongside the vitriolic reaction incited by the monopoly media. Can his stand be compared to Muhammad Ali and the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics* or not; the US anthem as a pean to the slave system; Kaepernick’s racial background; Kaepernick’s salary; and so on. [1]

That U.S. president Barrack Obama and the San Francisco NFL franchise are nominally agreeing with his “right to speak” expresses the deep-going crisis in American politics, which presents itself as the paragon of “democracy” that the world must emulate under the threat of the force of arms.

Obama cleverly asserted on September 4 from the G-20 meeting in China that it is the U.S. armed forces that “defend” what “Makes America Great”, going out of his way to whip up U.S. chauvinism so as to split and disinform the anti-war movement and the fight for the rights of all. He asserted that “it is a tough thing for men and women of the armed forces to get past,” inciting them against the athlete and his stand, and covered it by making a pretence of Kaepernick’s “constitutional right to make a statement” – as if democratic rights are not one, inalienable, interdependent and indivisible. carried a veiled threat against the player and a warning to all other athletes: “However, refusal to support the American flag as a means to take a stand has brought incredible backlash before and likely will in this instance.”

The Friday night game where he and a team-mate took a knee was played at Levi Stadium in San Diego, a massive naval base, and was precisely the occasion of yet one more NFL-Pentagon “Military Appreciation Night,” which have been normalized and presented as routine.

No one has raised as “controversial” just how far in bed the NFL, the most powerful sports cartel in the world and owned by some of the richest monopolies and billionaires, is in bed with the Pentagon – and enriched by it – and the drive for war and domination over other peoples and nations. Along with the NHL, NBA and MLB, the NFL has received hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years from the Pentagon in a pay-the-rich scheme to carry out so-called “patriotic displays” at football games as part of the intensive militarization of sport.

This line of Make America Great is being promoted in a situation where Native Americans, who have long contended with U.S. genocide, are demanding their rights; where African Americans are being gunned down in the streets by police and people are so angered they are rightly refusing to stand for the national anthem, as members of sports teams from the NFL to Little League are doing. Make America Great is to counter this growing consciousness that so long as the monopoly rulers remain in power, genocide, state racism and government impunity will characterize the U.S. behind the fig leaf of “constitutional right to make a statement.” The right of the peoples of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and Yemen do not matter because of this American exceptionalism, that people-to-people relations of mutual respect and benefit do not matter and must be nurtured, as anti-war activists have been doing. This spirit of One Humanity, One Struggle for Our Rights, with people of the U.S. an integral part, is to be smashed – replaced with the notion that only the U.S. and its striving for empire matters and all must submit or face war and repression.

Kaepernick’s principled stand has attracted the attention of the world sports media, coming as it does in the wake of the Rio Olympics and the uncouth and hooligan behaviour of some American athletes that degraded the festival of world youth.

Sport is not some hermetically sealed world. Athletes are members of the society. They have rights which also come with responsibilities to the society. In fact, these private US sports empires face the spectre of more athletes taking just stands. [2] On Friday, Kaepernick was joined by two more players, Eric Reid, a team-mate and another player from Seattle, Alex Lane, in his stand.

On Sunday, soccer international Megan Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem before Seattle Reign’s NWSL game against the Chicago Red Stars. Rapinoe said her gesture was a nod towards Kaepernick. “It was very intentional,” Rapinoe told American Soccer Now after the game. “It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country.”

All athletes should take a stand in defence of the rights of all.


[1] The stand of Muhammad Ali was against the U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam. He clearly linked it to his opposition to the oppression and enslavement of Afro-Americans.“I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die,” Ali said. “You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese.”

The Black Power Salute was defiantly made from the medal podium of the 1968 Mexico Olympics by two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, respectively first and third in the men’s 200 metres, with the often overlooked participation of Australian Peter Norman, the silver medal winner, as a statement of support to the fierce resistance of the Afro-American people to racial discrimination and oppression and was also made in the context of the massive and growing anti-war movement against the Vietnam War.

[2] Since the date of writing, other athletes have indeed started following Kaepernick’s lead. A teammate. A player on another team. Entire high school teams. Elementary school children. Across the U.S., people are taking sides.

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