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Perspective: History is Kinder to Athletes Who Protest than People at the Time

Rally In Support Of NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick Outside The League's HQ In New York
Getty Images

Right now, Americans are divided on, of all things, the National Football League. Let’s put aside the reason that I think my time supporting the NFL might be soon coming to a close (it’s the long-term effects of repeated concussions, in case you’re wondering).

No, the issue that has many fans burning $400 team jackets¬†and others saying they’ll never watch another game (yeah, talk to me when Super Bowl comes around) is that of NFL players refusing to stand during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem.

There have been incidents in the past, long before Colin Kaepernick, where sports fans have been just as outraged. Livid, in fact, that an athlete would dare to show disrespect to America, it’s flag, or it’s institutions. I think it’s worth noting, that most of these historical examples involve African-American athletes. For some reason, anti-government rhetoric seems to really appeal to the far right … as long as the speaker is white.

1968: Summer Olympics in Mexico City

U.S track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the “black power salute” while receiving their medals on the Olympic podium as the National Anthem played.
White American…had a hard time with it. They were criticized in the mainstream media as “selfish”. Time Magazine described their actions as “angry and nasty”. Both men and their families received harassment back home, including death threats.

49 years latter in 2017, both Smith and Carlos are considered American heroes and courageous men of principal.

1967: Houston, Texas

Heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali refuses to be drafted into the U.S. Armed forces. He was tried and convicted, had his passport revoked and all of his boxing titles stripped.

American white people< happy. See, Ali either didn’t know or didn’t care that if you want to get out a Viet Nam without being labeled a “draft dodger”, there were ways you could do it if you were rich, which he was. You could, for instance, enroll in college and get a student deferment. Or four. Or, you could get a medical deferment for some laughably minor “ailment”. In fact , there were so many ways out if you were rich you might as well read the official Vietnam draft-dodgers how-to guide.

Since the Vietnam War, Ali has been acclaimed a national treasure by president’s from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Obama wasn’t the last president to endorse the greatness of Ali. Upon his death in 2016, Donald Trump tweeted: Muhammad Ali is dead at 74! A truly great champion and a wonderful guy. He will be missed by all!

Geez, it makes you wonder what Trump would tweet about Kaepernick if somehow he were still alive when he passes. Maybe: “A truly wonderful athlete! His courageous act served as an inspiration to us all!”

The point is, there’s a tradition in this country of people being outraged by an act of conscience done by athletes (notably black ones). It’s usually done in the guise of patriotic fervor, but it just as often has an undertone of “why do they have to be so…so…uppity!”

The other side of that coin is that there is another tradition in this country. It is a tradition of coming to recognize the validity of the statement or act that was, decades ago, so egregious and so unforgivable. If history is any guide, this is where Kaepernick will be in 20 or 30 years.

But not if you go to an enemy combatant’s side in a war and pose in one of their anti-aircraft tanks. Sorry, Jane Fonda, but America don’t forgive and forget s**t like that.

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