RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Abdul-Jabbar writes: "Why am I so proud of America? Because, to paraphrase what Thomas Paine famously said during the Revolutionary War, these are the times that try Americans' souls. It is during tumultuous times like these - times when we are challenged to defend our most sacred beliefs with more than trite slogans on caps-that real heroes rise up to face that challenge."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: Getty Images)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: Getty Images)

Colin Kaepernick Is a Hero Muhammad Ali Would Be Proud Of

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sports Illustrated

06 December 17


have never been prouder to be an American.

That might seem like a strange confession in these dark times, when there is so much divisiveness in the country. Every day we are faced with cringe-worthy behavior by our country’s leaders: sexual harassment, enabling hate groups by publicly echoing their messages, the enactment of policies that curtail the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of the nonrich. We who love our country are often left embarrassed, enraged and exhausted. It’s as if some jokester slapped a going out of business sign on our country’s back and scribbled underneath: everything (we stand for) must go.

Then why am I so proud of America? Because, to paraphrase what Thomas Paine famously said during the Revolutionary War, these are the times that try Americans’ souls. It is during tumultuous times like these—times when we are challenged to defend our most sacred beliefs with more than trite slogans on caps—that real heroes rise up to face that challenge. Among these heroes are the athletes who recognize that they have a responsibility not just to defend a goal or a hoop, but also to defend American values and ideals.

There are certain iconic images that will forever live in our social collective unconscious of activist athletes who risked their lives, not to mention their careers, to uphold their principles and commitment to their country: Jesse Owens receiving his gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics while a German runner-up beside him gave the Nazi salute. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their black-gloved fists when receiving their medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to protest injustice and poverty in the African-American community. In 1996, Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf bowing his head in prayer during the national anthem as a protest against racism. In 2014, LeBron James and other NBA players wearing i can’t breathe shirts to protest Eric Garner’s death at the hands of police.

These heroes remind us what true patriotism is: people caring more about protecting the principles of the Constitution than about their own careers, fame, money or even lives. Colin Kaepernick, the recipient of this year’s Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, is one such hero.

What makes Colin so deserving of this award is that he fully embraced all of those risks in order to remind Americans about systemic racism. This is exactly what Muhammad Ali did when, at the height of his boxing career, he refused to be drafted during the Vietnam War. Ali knew that he was not at risk of being sent into combat and could have served as a celebrity soldier. But he insisted on standing up for his principles, even though it cost him millions of dollars and resulted in death threats, harsh attacks from the press and public, the loss of his title and the possibility of prison.

Since Colin first declined to stand for the national anthem on Aug. 14, 2016, to call attention to the astounding number of unarmed African-Americans killed by police, the citizens have responded with both praise and condemnation, just as they always have whenever anyone exercises their right to free speech on a contentious topic. This is the same treatment bold Americans of conscience have always received. People rarely want to hear the truth when that truth reveals problems they don’t want to face. It’s easier to blame the messenger and ignore the message.

He is forcing the country to continue to have a meaningful conversation about racial inequality when many want to pretend there is no problem.

That’s why Colin has been vilified and glorified, ostracized and memorialized, demonized and idolized. Though supporters have come and gone, Colin has never wavered in his commitment. This selfless courage has inspired other athletes—from high school to professional ranks—across all sports, races and genders to make their voices heard. He is forcing the country to continue to have a meaningful conversation about racial inequality when many want to pretend there is no problem.

Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award was created to honor individuals whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world. On Nov. 30, it was reported that a group of about 40 NFL players and league officials had reached an agreement for the league to provide approximately $90 million between now and 2023 for activism endeavors important to African-American communities. Clearly, this is the result of Colin’s one-knee revolution and of the many players and coaches he inspired to join him. That is some serious impact.

It has always been perplexing that people criticize athletes like Colin as being unpatriotic because they are exercising the rights the Constitution protects. It’s especially puzzling when they are accused of disrespecting the national anthem, which contains the lyrics, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,” and was written by a man who referred to blacks as an “inferior race of people.” When that song is playing, it seems like an especially appropriate time to bring up the fact that 200 years after it was written, we are still treating African-Americans as an inferior race by denying them equal opportunities in education, jobs, health care and voting. We praise our military for risking everything to make sure America lives up to the promises in the Constitution: equal opportunity and respect for all people.

Upon hearing about the establishment of the award in his honor, Ali said, “I know there will be a great tradition of champions to receive this award in the future, and I look forward to celebrating their spirit and accomplishments.” Were my old friend still alive, I know he would be proud that Colin Kaepernick is continuing Ali’s tradition of being a selfless warrior for social justice. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+48 # 1solartopia 2017-12-06 14:14

we should also recognized eric reid, who knelt with colin k. and has written beautifully about it.

it's truly sick that the NFL, with so many lousy quarterbacks, lacks the courage and clarity to hire this great player.

on the other hand, we should be grateful for all the hits he has not suffered. that game needs to change, both politically and physically.

there are greater things ahead for colin k.
+24 # ellen9 2017-12-06 16:26
I hope he can find a good job OUT of football. With all the head injuries and resulting brain damage, he'd be better off pursuing another career. He's a talented speaker and maybe his lack of employment in football will be a blessing.
+44 # oakjoan 2017-12-06 14:38
Good on ya Kareem for writing about Kaepernick's brave act. I think that we should pay attention to the religious rituals that are viewed without comment every day. I, as an atheist, feel strongly that I should be able to make public my beliefs without being viewed with shock and anger. Keep up the good work.
+48 # ellen9 2017-12-06 15:30
I'm very happy that Colin Kaepernick is being recognized for his courage in standing against racism and the extraordinary numbers of murders committed in the name of "law and order". He put his career on the line and deserves credit for standing up for social justice.
+14 # chomper2 2017-12-06 16:21
Kareem,I thought you were the cat's meow way back at UCLA when you were Lew. And have you recognized that this has apparently spilled over into other areas than just sports/race? How about those women in the US House of Representatives that are now speaking out against sexual harassment? Same kind of heroics and heroes. Ya think we could finally be growing up as a country?
+17 # elkingo 2017-12-06 16:56
Bravo Kareem, Colin, Muhammad, John, Tommie, Jesse,Eric, and all the others, white or black who stand up for truth and decency in the face of American patriotic bullshit, at such great personal risk and sacrifice.
-54 # Old School Conservative 2017-12-06 18:19
Somebody explain to me how The United States as a country denies African Americans the equal opportunity for education, jobs, health care and voting.

African Americans attend the same public education system as every other race and get preferential treatment for college admission at many universities. The government has laws protecting against job discrimination based on race, and gives preferential treatment to blacks for government employment. Insurance providers can't charge differently by race, and blacks have had the right to vote since the 15th Amendment passed in 1869.

There may still be racist people and inequality on an individual basis, but the United States as a country has made great effort to bring equality of opportunity on all of these issues.

Collin K and the others are misguided, unpatriotic, and disrespectful to others when they target the national anthem.
+18 # ellen9 2017-12-06 18:55
You evidently don't read the papers or watch TV or you would be very well aware of all the deaths that have resulted from over anxious police who have shot and killed minority citizens over the last few years. This is not about education, jobs, health care and voting. This is about the laws that you claim protect minorities but are being broken or ignored as minorities are being killed and police are being found innocent. Colin (not Collin) was not being disrespectful or unpatriotic when he took a knee. He was pointing out the racial discrimination that has been very evident in our country and the laws that ARE NOT protecting minorities.
-14 # Old School Conservative 2017-12-07 11:23
I was addressing the points of education, jobs, healthcare, and voting, because those are the points the author claimed that African Americans were being denied equal opportunity.
+8 # sbessho 2017-12-06 19:43
"African Americans attend the same public education system as every other race and get preferential treatment for college admission at many universities."

Name one.

Almost all universities give preferential admission to children of alumni, who are --surprise--mos tly white. These "legacy admissions" are somehow never mentioned when other white applicants think that "their spots" have been given to undeserving rivals.
-12 # Old School Conservative 2017-12-07 11:27
Wrong, many universities have lower GPA requirements for minorities in order to meet quotas. You will need to do your own research on that. In addition to whites, they also discriminate against Asians.
+5 # librarian1984 2017-12-07 23:11
I don't believe that's correct. Rather, GPA is one of many factors considered. There's an algorithm, specific to each institution, that includes GPA, extracurricular s, the student essay, recommendations , gender, race, legacy and veteran status etc.

The argument, and I agree with it, is that one of the benefits of a college education is exposure to different cultures, backgrounds, experiences, etc.

One thing I believe has hurt MANY sectors is an acceptance of the business model. In education it's one reason they have CEOs now instead of deans, increasing bureaucracy (and thus tuitions), with poorer scholarship -- not because minority students are there but because faux capitalism intrudes.
+11 # economagic 2017-12-06 21:41
You're kidding, right? I mean, conservative--d o you even know what that word means? I think your conservatism, like that of the neoCONS, puts the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle. The conservatism you seem to represent is that which defended the Divine Right of Kings, and even that has been supplanted long since by the Divine Right of Capital (Marjorie Kelly, 2001).

Seriously: You need to get less of your news from Fox and more of it from
RSN, in order that you might someday learn the difference between the myths we tell ourselves and the realities so many of us deny. I'll bet you believe the GOP is going to give you a big fat tax break PLUS lots of great new job opportunities as a result of the tax breaks for corporations and people who probably need them a lot less than you do.

70-YO fat white guy, member of a privileged elite (Academics/Econ omics). Just to be clear (you seem to be a bit confused), I am not aware of any tax cut for the rich that has ever resulted in significant in crease in jobs, or in economic growth in general.
-13 # Old School Conservative 2017-12-07 11:33
Address my points. Yes I will be getting a nice tax cut. The majority of people who pay taxes will as well.
+6 # librarian1984 2017-12-07 23:13
Temporay, while corporations' are deeper, wider -- and permanent.
+13 # librarian1984 2017-12-06 23:33
Visit a suburban school. Visit a city school. Hospitals. And really, do NOT bring up voting. Within hours of SCOTUS repealing the Voting Rights Act multiple states rescinded protections. Do you think they did it for no reason?

We enslaved people, beat them, sold them, stole their labor, separated husbands from wives and parents from children, for generations. We called them 3/5 human and fought a civil war to keep them enslaved. When justice was done, to our shame long after other nations had done so, we segregated them, said they couldn't use the same bathrooms, made welfare laws that encouraged families to split up. We promised them forty acres and a mule but gave them slums instead. We promised them equal opportunity but gave them worse schools, and when they demanded equality we beat them and hosed them and sicced dogs on them. We criminalized their behavior and to this day have allowed the police to murder men and women with impunity.

As recently as last year I saw grown white women giggling about the thrill of walking through 'an urban setting' like it was a zoo.

When have we ever apologized? When have we ever said thank you, for their billions of hours of labor, and for not rising up against us every damn day in revenge or for our continued abuse and contempt?

You say American blacks have a good life, have it easy?

If I asked you a hundred times if you'd trade places with a black man, how many times would you say yes?
-13 # Old School Conservative 2017-12-07 11:40
You are exactly right. I will not argue any points you made, and I don't think blacks have it easy. My point is that this country as a body has tried to fix those inequities. Racism should be addressed where it exists, but the United States is not racist, therefore it is misplaced to target the National Anthem and doing so is just disrespectful, especially to those who have served.
+5 # librarian1984 2017-12-07 18:53
"No refuge could save the hireling or slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave"

Thank you for your response, OSC.

I believe these lyrics from the third stanza are offensive to many people. Why should blacks, especially, need to show respect for such a song in the face of murder after murder? It literally adds insult to injury.

He does his job. He goes to all the practices and games, I assume. It's hard to believe standing for the anthem could be considered a condition of employment. But I have never been one to worry about burning the flag either, though I've never done so. I'm more offended by people who leave it out in the rain or at night.

It is a symbol, and as such is a perfect emblem to protest, imo, though my mother and I disagree on this.

He didn't spit on it or cuss. I believe kneeling is a respectful protest and I thought I heard a veteran had asked him to kneel rather than show displeasure in a less respectful way.

It seems to have worked. It got people talking -- though it has angered many people too.

Hope you're well.
+12 # BetaTheta 2017-12-07 09:53
Old School, you must not get out much. There is a whole world of, not just individual, but systemic racism at work in this country. A whole new Jim Crow system is arising around voting. And those black athletes, though they may make millions, are just as subject to arbitrary stop and harassment by police, as are their family members. Every one of them could tell you stories to make you cringe. So clam up and quit criticizing people in whose shoes you have not walked.

Most of these these "on paper" advances you cite are just that: pro forma declarations that are every day flouted in practice.
+4 # JoanF 2017-12-07 11:24
Obviously you don't live in the same United States as I do. Or your vision is seriously impaired.
+4 # Tippitc 2017-12-08 21:52
Oh My!! Perhaps you could read some history and a few facts wouldn't hurt either.
+7 # angelfish 2017-12-06 20:13
Thank you, Kareem for acknowledging Colin's Right to express himself FREELY. After ALL these Centuries, I certInly agree with his sentiment. It calls to mind the cogent words of e.e. cummings, "There is some sh*t I will not eat". Everyone has a limit to the amount of Bull-Puckey we are forced to swallow and I understand his need to make his feelings known. I find it amazing that more people of color in this country don't join with him and FINALLY, Stand UP, and say NO MORE! Lincoln FREED the Slaves 152 years ago! WHY do so many of them STILL get Second Class treatment?
+11 # dusty 2017-12-06 21:49
Old School Conservative -- you are not old school. I grew up in Arizona and my father was a friend with Senator Goldwater. Goldwater recognized bigotry and prejudice and supporting ignorance, like you choose to do, is not old school conservatism. Old school conservatives respect truth and reality and work to bring our laws, beliefs and policies in line with the ideals of justice, equality, and democracy. You fail the standard by repeating the old repeats instead of looking at what is really happening and demanding justice and honoring the ideals of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution and Bill of Rights.
-14 # babaregi 2017-12-06 22:25
Boycott the NFL and Build the Wall
+2 # David Starr 2017-12-08 11:25
Boycott the NFL and Build the Wall

Boycott the "Wall" and support racial justice.
-4 # babaregi 2017-12-06 22:38
Anyone seen Ritchie?
+5 # errikka 2017-12-07 10:31
thanks to Kareem for this great article.... i am enjoying my non-football watching; feel healthier, pure, sexier, more energetic and loving life a lot more.... feeling good.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.