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'Take A Knee' Changed My Mind About What Activism Can Look Like

I fully admit that when Colin Kaepernick first decided to embark on a one-man protest, I was conflicted.

09/27/2017 12:05 EDT | Updated 09/27/2017 12:05 EDT

I used to be a lot more into sports than I am now.

I can recall sifting through baseball statistics for hours. I used to revel in watching my Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs. I was a huge New York Knick fan as a teenager. And Dan Marino broke my heart with his inability to perform well in the post-season.

But I grew up, and other than watching my Habs (I almost quit after they traded away their heart and soul) and a few Raptors games, I simply lost interest in remaining a regular viewer. I do not begrudge my friends and family who are still faithful fans of one professional sport or another — I am just disinterested in being loyal to millionaires who I seem to have nothing in common with.

Getty Images
Eli Harold #58, Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Oct. 16, 2016.

Until Colin Kaepernick took a knee and set his career, and the merging of politics and sports, on fire.

I fully admit that when Kaepernick first decided to embark on a one-man protest, I was conflicted. I was confused as to why a wealthy athlete would have issues with a country that made it possible for him to succeed. Like many observers at the time, a part of me saw a spoiled brat who didn't have the burden of being poor or marginalized in a country not known for its exemplary treatment of black people. Activists would likely say my initial reaction was a symptom of white privilege, but I've never been one to embrace the buzzwords of identity politics. Rather, I simply did not have enough information yet, and so I took the surface information and tentatively went with that.

It was a glorious, non-invasive-yet-still-powerful display.

It didn't take long for me to abandon those initial thoughts, and now I think, like a few others have stated eloquently, that Kaepernick could be the Mohammed Ali of our time. Add to that the rodeo clown occupying the White House — this generation's George Wallace, attempting to eviscerate NFL players for following Kaepernick's lead — and you have more than enough reasons for me to start fully engaging with sports once again. Only this time, it's political, and it is marvellous.

I often take issue with the tactics of activists. I think blocking traffic is not just inconvenient but wholly dangerous as well. But sometimes a demonstration occurs that embodies not just a symbol of justice, but a sort of simplicity that is far more powerful than inconveniencing the public on their evening commute.

USA Today Sports / Reuters
Members of the New England Patriots take a knee during the national anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium.

So when dozens of NFL athletes, responding to Donald Trump's declaration that a kneeling football player is a "son of a bitch" who deserves to be fired, each took a knee during the anthem last Sunday, it was a glorious, non-invasive-yet-still-powerful display of how a protest can be truly visceral without force-feeding the thrust of the issue down the throats of the unwitting public. Sure, there is an argument that activism is not always comfortable, that change often happens with unsolicited pressure, but those tactics can often create as many enemies as allies. And if the main point of activism is to convince a majority of the public towards a version of social justice, then numbers do matter.

In the case of the NFL players, the public is still polarized. One camp, the one where I have now planted my flag, sees the protest as peaceful and a shining example of how simplicity can be a powerful force. The other side sees it as a disgraceful demonstration that vandalizes the spirit of the flag, the country, and the military. The irony is that the man whom most of the #takeaknee detractors voted for, avoided the draft when his name was called , plus he publicly insulted an actual war hero, John McCain, for being captured in Vietnam. This is the man now demanding patriotism from Americans.

If soldiers really do fight for the freedom of its fellow civilians, then they do it so that guys like Kaepernick can take a knee in protest.

But even if you are not a fan of Trump, excoriating the symbolic knee of black football players on the coattails of patriotism is not just absurd, it also shows a fundamental lack of understanding of patriotism itself. The image of Kaepernick — his natural afro, his serious expression and the one knee planted firmly on the same grass that has provided him with a special status in life — is now an iconic reminder that being rich doesn't mean being void of a passion for social justice. Even if you believe black citizens in America are no longer oppressed, a dubious and largely misinformed idea to begin with, you should at least have the wherewithal to grasp the following concept: if soldiers really do fight for the freedom of its fellow civilians, then they do it so that guys like Kaepernick can take a knee in protest.

This is as simple as arguing steadfastly for free speech rights. The left have watered down the concept of free speech to a definition that suits their ideology. But the right have their own dichotomy as they have been collectively triggered by a man and his colleagues who are perfectly demonstrating what it truly means to engage in the lost art of being free. The irony is they are doing it so their people can actually feel free as well.

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