Twenty years from now there will be a boy, or maybe a girl. Yeah, let’s say a girl. Let’s call her Tiffany. Tiffany is a huge football fan, and her favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, is in the middle of a playoff run. Tiffany is from New York City, but worships the Niners for one reason ― Colin Kaepernick. She’ll strive to be like him ― principled, passionate, persistent.
Have you heard his story? The real story? In the distant future, too few will remember the meaningful details ― if enough of us allow it to be whitewashed.
The story will be told that there was a time when a few bad apples among our nation’s police forces were giving all officers a bad name. Instead of protecting and serving, they were taking innocent lives.
When the justice system failed to hold these officers accountable, Colin took a stand by taking a knee during the national anthem. He wasn’t loud, he wasn’t abrasive, just passionate. He loved the United States so much, he was willing to call it out when we weren’t living up to our own ideals. Our ideals are important, they make us who we are, and when we fail to achieve them, everyone suffers.
Colin understood this, so when things got tough, when players and the media criticized him, he didn’t get angry, he pushed on. When NFL owners challenged his stance, he responded with truth. Colin took a step back from the league to continue his fight, and when the time was right, a compassionate owner with a heart of gold brought him in. Without the kindness of this one rich man, who risked absolutely nothing by signing a talented quarterback, Colin would not matter.
After the signing, the media spectacle was huge. Think pieces praising the owner were written faster than the average person could read them, talking heads glowed at the league’s “bold stance for racial justice.”
But while the world basked in this progress, the first steps toward sanitizing Colin’s story were underway. Preseason began, ticket sales soared and the NFL grew giddy amid the PR boost. However, Colin? Well, he won’t get much of a chance, and after a few okay games, and maybe a year or two as a backup, he disappeared from the game.
But Tiffany doesn’t know about that complicated portion of the story, and she probably won’t ever hear it ― the clips of Tomi Lahren calling Colin a terrorist, and Rush Limbaugh instigating listeners to attack him will serve as reminders of those dark days, but their outrageous rhetoric will create cover for the people who were just as racist but were more subtle in their articulation. Tiffany won’t hear about the owners who called him a terrorist, the death threats from nameless haters or the league’s all-powerful rebuke.
Tiffany will get the feel-good stuff. And the stuff will be spectacularly good ― because despite the drama that she never sees, the league will parade Colin’s legacy for its own benefit.
In Tiffany’s day, Colin’s likeness will sit in the Hall of Fame, players will be required to wear red cleats once a year to celebrate the first time Colin knelt for justice, and young fans will be inspired by his story.
That’s right, in 20 years, Colin will be a hero.
A hero who the league, in cahoots with the institution of white supremacy, will have sanitized to their liking.
Behind closed doors, Colin will remain an example of rogue activism they will use to chide others who take a stand against injustice. Another unapologetically black activist whose accomplishments will be erased to fit a narrative.
But the day Colin is openly appreciated for the sacrifices he made, the career he lost and the death threats he endured, the celebration will be led by his enemies. The same men who riled up opponents, handed those people a rope, and cheered in the dark as his character was assassinated, will be the ones who gush about how important Colin was and the way his activism inspires them.
Some may call this a travesty, but that’s just the way whiteness works. When you lack the money to control a narrative, or the platforms to lead a conversation, the victors will choose how your story is told, even if they were the ones that supplied the rope to lynch you.
Until then, Colin will continue to fight the system, and as he battles for black lives, and we battle for his right to do what he loves, the powers that be will recoil.
Let’s strive for the day when doing the right thing will be celebrated in the moment, and not attacked for being “wrongheaded” or impatient.