Colin Kaepernick compares NFL to slavery in new Netflix show

Show is latest high-profile critique from former NFL quarterback, who became famous for kneeling during national anthem

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 02 November 2021 21:18
Nike advert 'Dream Crazy' features Colin Kaepernick

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a new, provocative protest against racial injustice, one that’s perhaps even more pointed than his now-iconic decision with teammates to kneel during the national anthem in 2016 to protest systemic racism and police violence.

Mr Kaepernick, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2017 and has since started a number of civil rights initiatives, has a new scripted series about his childhood for Netflix called Colin in Black & White. In the opening scene of the show, the real Kaepernick, dressed in an all Black outfit reminiscent of the attire of the Black Panthers, watches on as a group of Black football players try out in front of white coaches, a process he compares to a slave auction.

"What they don’t want you to understand is what’s being established is a power dynamic," he says. "Before they put you on the field, teams poke, prod and examine you searching for any defect that might affect your performance.”

It’s a process, Kaepernick says, with "no dignity left intact."

This latest gesture of protest, as with much Kaepernick does, has proved divisive. Congressman Burgess Owens of Utah, who is Black and previously played in the NFL, said the comparison was inappropriate."How dare @Kaepernick7 compare the evil endured by so many of our ancestors to a bunch of millionaires who CHOSE to play game," he tweeted.

Others, however, praised the show for its commentary on racism and sports.

#ColininBlackandWhite  is absolutely a must watch,” wrote Twitter user @double_U_ohoh_D. “He dives deep into his past and black history as a whole incredibly well as it relates to HIS story. As a man that’s that black&white and raising a child that’s black& white this was so impactful, thanks trailblazer @Kaepernick7.”

Kaepernick has accused the league, whose teams are made up of a majority of Black players but owned almost exclusively by white men, of blackballing him for his protest, before reaching a confidential settlement with the NFL in 2019.

Since then, the former Super Bowl quarterback has been the face of a Nike marketing campaign, hosted a number of “know your rights” civil rights workshops for young people, and launched a publishing company focused on activist literature, including this year’s Abolition for the People: The Movement For A Future Without Policing & Prisons.

Though kneeling on a football field perhaps feels a bit quaint compared to 2020 and 2021 standards, where demonstrators torched buildings across America to protest police brutality, and stormed the Capitol to try to overturn a rightful election, the gesture remains a salient one.

Earlier this year, Mark Cuban, the billionaire businessman and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, came in for a storm of controversy when it was reported the team would stop playing the national anthem to open games, though it now does play it.

“We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,’’ Mr Cuban said in a statement at the time. "But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been.”

Kaepernick’s decision to kneel can be seen as one of the key early moments of what sports commentators have called the “player empowerment era,” where pro sports leagues mainly Black superstars have felt more comfortable flexing their influence, be it in regards to their contracts or on social commentary.

In 2020, for example, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks upped the ante and didn’t take the court at all for a scheduled playoff game in protest of the recent shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake in nearby Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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