Harbinger

Music, Football, and Politics: Kaepernick in the Midst

Noor Majid, Staff Writer

Photo: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
NY Giants Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Is it the end of an era? Is it the end of America?” croons Elizabeth Grant, better known under her stage name, Lana Del Rey, in her sultry and languid song, “When the World Was at War, We Kept Dancing.”

New York-born Del Rey is no stranger to controversial, and sometimes downright uncomfortable lyrics. In her 2012 number, “Body Electric,” for example, the singer proclaims, “Jesus is my bestest friend.” In “Ultraviolence,” one of her newer songs and the title of her 2014 album, she states in a breathy lyric, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.”

While it has continually served as a means of expression and artistry, music in more recent years has increasingly become a fiery political stage. Over two years ago, in March of 2015, hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar released his groundbreaking album, To Pimp a Butterfly, which went on to win Rap Album of the Year in the 58th annual Grammy Awards. 2015 was the year Lamar dominated: he was nominated for 11 Grammys, more than any other artist, and eventually won five. It is fitting that his most powerful album was also released the same year.

In an interview with the Rolling Stone magazine in 2015, Lamar described this award-winning album as “honest, fearful, and unapologetic.” To Pimp a Butterfly celebrates the Black Lives Matter movement and explores various political themes related to race and discrimination. The album’s opening song, “Wesley’s Theory,” is titled after African-American actor Wesley Snipes who was jailed for tax evasion, while “King Kunta” references the character Kunta Kinte of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, an African-American slave whose foot was cut off to prevent him from escaping a plantation in nineteenth century America.

Lamar is one of many influential figures who are taking a stand against racial prejudices and inequality in America. Singer-songwriter John Legend, known for his chart-topping “All of Me,” told the Time magazine in April of 2017, “I’ve seen the activism on the street. I’ve participated in marches.” Legend is the forerunner of the FREEAMERICA initiative to reform the criminal justice system and end mass incarceration in America, particularly that of young people of color.

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When San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick first took to kneeling during the national anthem in August 2016, he went unnoticed for two days. It wasn’t until a member of Niners Nation, a sports coverage site, tweeted out a photo which showed Kaepernick sitting on a bench during the 49er’s third preseason game of last year that the movement gained storm.

“This stand wasn’t for me,” Kaepernick said in a statement on August 28, 2016, two days after his action became publicized. “This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have theirvoices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

Photo: Noor Majid

On September 1 of 2016 during the anthem prior to a game in San Diego, California, Kaepernick was joined by teammate Eric Reid, who would kneel for the remainder of the season.

Just minutes after, over 400 miles away, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks sat on a bench for the national anthem of Oakland.

More than a year later, in 2017, the movement reached a fever pitch. On September 24 of this year, President Donald Trump made a series of comments and tweets which slammed football players for taking a knee during the national anthem and even called for those who kneeled to be fired.

Photo: @RealDonaldTrump on Twitter

President Trump’s words actually spurred a historic act among NFL players — almost 200 players knelt in solidarity during Week 3 of the season, and many took to Twitter to speak out against him. For about a week, NFL kneeling was the subject of discussion for various news conglomerates, including CBS news.

The controversy around kneeling during the national anthem has set the stage for a wider debate about the concept, and remaining stigma, about race in America. Colin Kaepernick knelt because he believed the flag — or the current status of the nation — did not adequately represent the interests of all peoples of this country.

In the continuous and increasingly heated discussion circling the topic, it is possible that Kaepernick’s original message may have been lost in the political fire. The NFL player himself has remained consciously absent in public statements about kneeling, save for several addresses he has made to the media detailing into his reasons for kneeling and what he perceived the nation to be.

Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
“Kaepernick in the Dark”: Colin Kaepernick during Super Bowl XLVII stadium black-out.

Kaepernick is currently a free agent quarterback, meaning he has not been signed on to a team as of yet. There have been numerous speculations about the reasons for this, especially considering that he is far more skilled than several of the quarterbacks who have been signed on before him. His status as a free agent is worrying, as it alludes to a stigma around his being — the very stigma he was protesting against in his kneeling.

As America moves forward into the next month of the NFL season, and soon a new year, it is important to understand Kaepernick’s true reason for his protest, and to continue to discuss and dissolve the prejudices which have been brought to light because of such kneeling.

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