Apparently, standing up for what you believe in as an African American professional athlete is not a good way to keep your job. At least that is what we see when we look at the struggles Colin Kaepernick has had trying to find employment in the NFL this upcoming season.
As a professional athlete in two of the three major American sports, you have the capability of reaching a high-profile status, which is huge considering that the majority of professional athletes, with the exception of Major League Baseball, are African American.
Although the athletes who compete on the football field or on the basketball court are majority African American, it is no secret that the owners of the franchises and organizations they play for are not. Not only are the majority of the owners of these professional teams White, the league officials and administrators, which include the Commissioners of each of these elite clubs, are White as well.
This stands out as a huge possible factor as to why many of the players who have stood up for what they believe in have been exiled from the leagues and teams they once worked so hard for. And as it relates to Kaepernick, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Black professional athlete be “exiled” from a sport that they love.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly known as Chris Jackson in his LSU days, faced the same struggles as Kaepernick did during his professional basketball career. Abdul-Rauf was the third overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft, and was like an earlier version of Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, when it comes to explaining his basketball skills.
Chris Jackson became Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf when he converted to Islam after entering the league, and during the 1996 NBA season, Abdul-Rauf made his first public stance by refusing to stand up or be on the floor during the singing of the national anthem. Once the NBA found out that Abdul-Rauf was skipping out on the anthem, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Abdul-Rauf. Following his suspension, Commissioner Stern and Abdul-Rauf came to an agreement about a silent prayer that he could perform during the anthem instead of sitting out.
Following the end of the season, Abdul-Rauf was traded from the Denver Nuggets where he was a starter and held a dominant role on the team. Once traded, Abdul-Rauf began to see fewer minutes and less time on the floor, which meant that he had fewer opportunities in the NBA. Once his contract expired, he did not receive any calls from teams asking for his services, even after solidifying himself as one of the best sharpshooting point guards in the NBA at the time.
Abdul-Rauf isn’t the only NBA guard to experience employment issues after standing up for what they believed in. Craig Hodges, the former two-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, was exiled from the league after writing a letter to former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, stating how the government was not doing anything about the injustices that African Americans were facing in the country, as well as the large percentage of African Americans who were living below the poverty line.
The three-time NBA 3-point shootout champion was one of the best shooters in the league at the time, and after his run-in with the White House, he did not return to play with the Bulls after the 1992 NBA season, he lost his agent, and he never saw another minute of playing time in the NBA.
As we watch history repeat itself with Colin Kaepernick, we must remember the power that athletes actually possess.
In 2015, the University of Missouri’s football team took a stand and said that if actions weren’t taken against the racial inequality and injustice that was taking place on their campus, they were going to sit out of the university’s next big game against Penn State, which would have cost the school millions of dollars. As a result of their stance, the president of the University of Missouri was fired, and certain actions were taken. After the restructuring, the football team geared back up and put their pads back on to play.
Where does that power actually lie though…in the hands of the owners, the players or the administration? In the case of University of Missouri, it serves an example of the type of power an athlete can actually carry, especially when it comes to protesting and standing up for what’s right.
As we watch Colin Kaepernick’s current situation continue to unfold, there are a few things that should be taken into consideration. For one, the Baltimore Ravens felt like it was necessary to ask their fans and sponsors about signing Kaepernick, which is something that we have not seen with NFL players with domestic violence issues or other legal problems.
Not only are the Ravens making this process difficult for the former NFC champion but the Miami Dolphins recently just signed Jay Cutler to a one-year $10 million dollar contract. Cutler came out of retirement and postponed his planned broadcasting career with Fox sports to come back and play for Miami.
Now we’ll have seen a multitude of quarterbacks that have signed their name across that dotted line before Kaepernick. From former Arena League guys to quarterbacks who have not taken more than a few professional snaps as an NFL quarterback, to quarterbacks coming out of retirement; they are all getting their opportunity to play before a man that has reached the super bowl once and is still under the age of 30.
Do teams/owners truly believe that Kaepernick can substantially affect the amount of annual revenue that they receive? If every player were to take a knee on the field, the NFL would not be able to do much about it and fans would still come to games and watch on TV, so it doesn’t make sense as to why one player who is better than a lot of the other players at his position is penalized for standing up for what he believes in.
When enough high-profile athletes choose to stand up for what they believe in, and remain employed at the same time, then we will know that progress is truly being made in this country and in the complex world of sports.