Prior to this season, Colin Kaepernick
was just another star-studded NFL quarterback, who, it seemed, had his best days behind him. Now, his name has symbolized something much more. Having decided not to stand during the pre-game National Anthem because he does not want to "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,
" Kaepernick has ignited a firestorm of controversy. Even President Obama
has offered his take on the issue.
Given the quarterback's audacious policial actions, something
that rarely occurs among professional athletes (especially well-paid superstars), sports historians and journalists have been using this episode to compare Kaepernick to others who have ignited similar debates such as the late boxing great Muhammad Ali
and Olympians John Carlos
and Tommie Smith
. Ali stirred his own controversy when he decided not to serve in the US Army during the height of the Vietnam War, while Carlos and Smith are best remembered for their Black Power Salute during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, protesting America's racial inequality. As a result, all three men suffered severe economic and professional consequences.
Oddly, one name that hasn't surfaced much during this current debate is the late St. Louis Cardinal Curt Flood
. In 1969, Flood, who was a three-time All-Star and Gold Glove recipient seven consecutive times for his splendid play in the outfield, decided to contest Major League Baseball's insurmountable "reserve clause" policy, which essentially denied the right of a ballplayer to choose whom he could play for. Since Flood was African American, racism made its way into the controversy.
Although Flood was not victorious in his legal battle, in the end, however, he--like Ali, Carlos and Smith--was vindicated. Although there remains debate over the impact of modern day free agency, which has created thousands of multi-millionaire professional athletes in baseball, basketball, and football, it did culminate in a tremendous honor for Flood. In 1998, President Bill Clinton
signed into law the Curt Flood Act
, which legally prevented Major League Baseball from reverting back to the reserve clause.
What will result from Kaepernick's actions?
Who knows, but if there is one thing that is certain, as President Obama has maintained, Kaepernick has "generated more conversation about issues" of race, patriotism, and the definition of freedom of speech than any other celebrity and for that, he should be commended rather than condemned.