by James Viray
In an ESPN Outside the Lines (OTL) podcast entitled, "Missing the Message?" earlier this week, Bob Lee looked at whether or not Colin Kaepernick's and other athletes' message about the oppression of minorities has been lost in the media's discussion about their protests.
Regarding how the protests are being reported and treated in the media, Clinton Yates, contributor to ESPN's The Undefeated website, said, "I think if you're Colin Kaepernick, this could not have gone any better….I think Kaepernick has brought it to the forefront in the NFL and a lot of people are forced to deal with this in a way that they are uncomfortable doing to begin with, which is exactly what the point of protest is. It's not about order, it's about justice. And I think that he's done very well. He cannot ask for more if you're that guy and what he was trying to do."
I think Colin Kaepernick would like to see this going better. And I think Colin Kaepernick can and has asked for more. In interviews soon after his protest was picked up by the media, Kaepernick explained, "There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, that people aren't being held accountable for. That's something that needs to change." He stated that he'll continue his protest until "there's significant change…There's a lot of things that need to change. One, specifically, is police brutality." While Kaepernick has certainly been successful in raising the country's awareness of the issue of police brutality against minorities, his own words suggest that he wants something more than people just talking about the issue. He wants to see change.
Raising awareness is a necessary step for making progress on any social issue, but it's only the first step. Getting beyond that first step requires something that has been missing from the messaging so far: solutions. At least potential solutions--in this case, proposals for specific policy reforms or legislation at the local, state or national level regarding police training, limitations on use of force, community oversight, misconduct investigation and judicial processes.
On the OTL podcast, Yates argued that, "it's not [Kaepernick's] responsibility for how we go about this." And Yates is right. It's not Kaepernick's responsibility to come up with solutions. But, it is his—and his fellow professional athlete activists'—opportunity.
Now, making such proposals should not be taken or done lightly. It requires educating oneself on all sides of the issue and the potential ways forward. If Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, the entire Indiana Fever team or any other high-profile individuals care enough about an issue to use their platform to publicly demonstrate support or opposition, they would do well to take the time and effort to research ways to potentially progress that cause or address the issue (this exercise, by the way, is better done through engagement with policy experts or community leaders than a public relations consultant as the Carolina Panthers hired for Cam Newton). Otherwise, as Bob Lee points out in the podcast, we see the conversation remain focused on the protest, rather than on the issue.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has his own experience as an athletivist, commented that, "At some point in the very near future [Kaepernick] needs to figure out a way where he can be a part of the solution."
If we are missing the message from Colin Kaepernick's protest, it's because there's something missing from the message: solutions.
At Athletivate, we help athletes motivate action on their causes by working with them to develop a policy position with practical recommendations; facilitating partnerships to mobilize community members and leaders alongside them; and designing an advocacy strategy to put them in front of influential policymakers to drive real change on the issue.