OPED: Reactions to Kaepernick, Lochte are very different
- When black men stand up against American oppression, the fears of the white establishment arise.
- Never mind that Kaepernick’s right to protest is enshrined in the First Amendment.
- In the eyes of those who would deny the humanity of blacks, he has no right to American freedoms
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sits down during the national anthem to protest America’s treatment of people of color, and he is accused of being a traitor to his country.
Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte is facing criminal charges in Brazil for falsely reporting he was robbed at gunpoint, and, while he lost several endorsements as a result, he ultimately was rewarded with a stint on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Both men are accomplished athletes. Kaepernick appeared in Super Bowl XLVII. Lochte is a 12-time Olympic medalist.
But Lochte is white, Kaepernick is black, and when black men stand up against American oppression, the fears of the white establishment arise. Fears that a single man seated on a bench is the forerunner to violent rebellion; that an athlete with the gall to think for himself is a danger to the order of things.
Rooted in guilt, and watered by ignorance, those fears grow strong in bigotry’s soil. Because the truth of the matter is this: So long as Kaepernick is content to collect a paycheck for throwing a ball, so long as he is satisfied with staking his livelihood to a game, so long as his words are restricted to signals on the gridiron, he poses no threat.
But when black athletes awaken to the cruel reality that they too are black, that they too are targets, that they too are susceptible to the treatment that other blacks endure, they become more than leaders on a field. They become leaders in life.
And for that, they must be punished.
Never mind that Kaepernick’s right to protest is enshrined in the First Amendment. Forget that his decision to exercise that right is an expression of American freedom.
Kaepernick is a black man, and in the eyes of those who would deny the humanity of blacks, Kaepernick has no right to American freedoms; only the obligation to serve American interests.
I suspect that Kaepernick knew the risks when he sat down during the national anthem. He said as much when he was asked to explain his actions.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL media. “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.”
The data back Kaepernick’s words. Overall, blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police than whites, and black men make up 40 percent of all unarmed people shot and killed by police last year, though we make up only 6 percent of the population. Convictions of police officers in such shootings are exceedingly rare.
Those facts haven’t tempered the angry response to Kaepernick’s action.
In thousands of social media posts and dozens of interviews, Kaepernick has been called a traitor, he’s been denigrated as stupid, he’s been pilloried with racial epithets, and he has been labeled a coward.
This for doing what America was founded upon: fighting government oppression.
Compare the anger aimed at Kaepernick with the response that greeted Lochte after he was caught on video committing what looked to be a crime. According to video evidence and their own statements, Lochte and three other American swimmers urinated in an alley, vandalized private property and did not initially stop when confronted by security. Security leveled weapons in their direction, and Lochte and his teammates were forced to pay for the damage they caused.
Lochte lied about that incident, claiming he and his teammates were robbed. He repeated his false story to the media and to the police. Then he left Brazil, leaving his friends behind to deal with the consequences. As a result, swimmer James Feigen was fined nearly $11,000 before he was allowed to leave Brazil, and Lochte now faces criminal charges.
The 32-year-old Lochte was called a kid by apologists who refused to hold him accountable. His false report of a crime was labeled a youthful mistake. He issued televised apologies to a forgiving American public. He was coddled in a display of white male privilege.
Even now, as Lochte faces criminal charges that could result in up to six months in a Brazilian prison, ABC has announced that Lochte will appear on next season’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Perhaps one day, Kaepernick will be similarly rewarded for telling the truth.
Until then, I won’t be dancing with the stars.
— Solomon Jones is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org