OAKLAND -- Colin Kaepernick’s popularity is rising again, and not because he’s abandoned his cause. He remains committed to the perpetual struggle for social justice, but now supporters worldwide are joining those in the Bay Area, including members of the NBA champion Warriors.
The former 49ers quarterback likely added a few more allies Wednesday, after a New York Times story detailed the agenda and events of a “confidential” meeting last October between NFL owners and players. The league’s exclusion of Kaepernick was among the topics.
“If he was on a roster right now, all this negativeness and divisiveness could be turned into a positive,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long said at the meeting, according to audio recording acquired by the Times.
Long, it seems, may be onto something the NFL does not acknowledge. Not yet.
Six months after that meeting in New York, Kaepernick, whose efforts to highlight social injustice have made him an outcast in the NFL, has yet to receive a job offer from a team. What he does have, as of last weekend, is the kind of global recognition that would shame the NFL if it weren’t so utterly shameless.
Amnesty International, a global organization fighting to end human rights abuse, named Kaepernick its 2018 Ambassador of Conscience, putting him in the august company of, among others, such noted activists and humanitarians as the band U2, singers Alicia Keys and Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and the late Nelson Mandela.
The upshot: Kaepernick is good for the planet but somehow bad for the NFL.
“It still shows there is some good in the world,” Warriors star Kevin Durant told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We might be in a bad place in the United States, but around the world there’s still some good.”
“Colin doesn’t do it for the awards, doesn’t do it for the accolades. I think he’s really doing it for the people that don’t have a voice and the people who are fighting for change. I applaud him. And I’ll continue to support him, just like everybody else on our team and a lot of guys in professional sports.”
Durant is a member of the new wave of athlete/activists willing to speak out beyond the scope of their sport. He, like teammate Stephen Curry and fellow NBA star LeBron James, has been openly critical of President Donald Trump.
Yet all three remain as popular as ever. Curry sells more NBA merchandise than anyone, with James and Durant running second and third.
Durant was named this week one of 10 nominees for the NBA Cares Community Assist award. This comes less than a week after he was named to Time Magazine’s Top 100 list, an honor bestowed upon those making an impact on the world. Curry, who politely stated his refusal to accept an invitation from the Trump White House, was named to the same list in 2016.
And now here comes Kaepernick, adding another honor to a growing list that includes GQ magazine’s 2017 Citizen of the Year, Sports Illustrated’s 2017 Muhammad Ali Legacy award winner, as well as the winner of the ACLU’s Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate award last December.
“It’s awesome,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the Amnesty International honor. “The first thing that I think of, when you look back at the civil rights movement, Muhammad Ali was hated in much of this country. He was considered a traitor. He was supposed to go to jail.
“When I think of Kaepernick, I think of Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, athletes were leaders in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. What they were doing was very unpopular and they were vilified by a good section of the country.
“So nothing’s changed.”
True, but for how long? It is becoming apparent is that activism isn’t as unfashionable as the NFL believes. The league, as indicated in the Times story, is caught between conservative elements of its fan base and the progressive folk standing behind those, like Kaepernick, willing to nudge society toward justice and equal rights.
The NFL thus far has, even as its attendance and TV ratings slide, consistently sides with the former.
“They’re looking unkind and unenlightened at the moment,” Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams said.
Which also was the case in the 1960s, when Ali faced withering criticism and malicious prosecution for sticking to his religious principles, and when Tommie Smith and John Carlos were stripped of their medals and banished from the Olympic Village in Mexico City for raising gloved fists as a peaceful response to racism.
Ali left this earth a hero. Smith and Carlos have come to represent courage and a commitment to humanity. Here’s Kaepernick representing those ideals in real time.
“A lot of people are on the wrong side of history,” Warriors forward David West said. “And it’s up to us to make sure nobody forgets it.”
Voices are rising in that regard. More and more people are standing on principle, from teenagers seeking reasonable gun laws to the Kaepernicks and the Eric Reids, who jeopardize their employment in pursuit of a greater America.
“I’m glad that Kaepernick is being recognized,” Kerr said. “It’s a good reminder that when you’re on the side of human rights, you’re going to end up on the right side of history. Years from now, Kaepernick will be much more respected and celebrated.”
The NFL Draft begins Thursday. Quarterbacks with no professional resume will be selected and granted the privilege of leading a team. They have faced a battery of questions from league officials seeking to peek inside. Some surely have been asked about their beliefs related to race, religion and human rights.
It’s not a stretch to assume some have been asked, directly, for their opinion of Kaepernick.
Meanwhile, the man himself stands outside the league, staring at fields that belong to a league in which he is not welcome. His next chance may never come. He may have to settle for having his own personal train, boarded by defenders and advocates, getting more crowded by the hour.
How does the NFL not see that Kaepernick is widely admired by society beyond the end zones? That he is accepted within by the more socially advanced world of the NBA and, by extension, its fans? Plenty in the NFL, as Long implied in that covert meeting, also see his cause as compassionate and necessary.
“Hopefully he gets a chance to do what he loves, which is play football,” Durant said. “But if he doesn’t, that’s another story that’s sad in itself. He’s doing what’s right and doing something that he believes in. It’s a truly noble act.”