Colin Kaepernick has come under intense scrutiny over the past month due to his decision to first sit, and then take a knee during the National Anthem. He began his silent demonstration in protest of the treatment of people of color in America. In particular, he has repeatedly pointed to the issue of treatment of African Americans by police.
Kaepernick has had support for his actions, but there has been intense vitriol in response to his protest. Some people have a problem with his method of protest, while others have a problem with a black man demonstrating against social injustice in America (or at least are uncomfortable when these demonstrations occur). I’d be curious what the overlap is in the Venn diagram of these two groups.
Recently, a market research firm conducted a poll of 1,100 people “whose demographics were representative of the general population.” In that poll, they asked people if they liked or dislike a player, and then add “a lot” as a qualifier on each one. ESPN and other media outlets got access to the research data and reported that Colin Kaepernick was listed as “disliked a lot” by 29 percent of those polled. This was tops among the 350 players asked about in the survey. I don’t know what “a lot” means in this survey, so I suppose infuse whatever meaning you want into that.
The top five were as follows:
1. QB Colin Kaepernick - 29 percent
2. QB Jameis Winston, Buccaneers - 22 percent
3. DE Ndamukong Suh, Dolphins - 21 percent
4. QB Tom Brady, Patriots - 13 percent
5. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers - 10 percent
The 2016 poll, last taken in August 2014, which was the training camp after Kaepernick and the 49ers had lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title game. At that time, Kaepernick was listed as “disliked a lot” by 6 percent of the population. Among self-described NFL fans, the “disliked a lot” number was 36 percent. That was up from 10 percent in the 2014 survey.
There is a racial dynamic to this. The poll showed that 42 percent of African Americans said they liked him “a lot,” with 2 percent saying they disliked him “a lot.” In the 2014 survey, 16 percent said they liked him “a lot” and 3 percent disliked him “a lot.” In comparison, 37 percent of self-described Caucasians disliked him “a lot,” as compared to 7 percent in 2014.
On Thursday, Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said it was time for a white player to “join the fight” and acknowledges and speaks about the problem.
“You need a white guy to join the fight. The white guy is super important to the fight,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said. “For people to really see social injustices, there must be someone from the other side of the race who recognizes the problem, because a lot of times if just one race says there’s a problem, nobody is realistic about it.”
The Seahawks have interlocked arms during the Anthem, and based on his comments, my guess is Bennett is among the players who would have preferred a more forceful stand.
On Thursday, Chip Kelly made his most forceful comments in support of Kaepernick. He specifically pointed to the Tulsa and Charlotte shootings, and referred to the situation as heinous. When Lowell Cohn pushed on Kaepernick’s post-game press conferences, Kelly offered a strong defense of his backup quarterback.
That being said, I think Bennett is right in terms of taking this protest to another level. An 1,100-person survey is not the be-all, end-all of where things stand, but it adds at least a little context. I don’t think having a big name white player would create some huge pivot, but it could create some kind of impact.
Earlier this month, New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long offered support for Kaepernick, discussing his respect for his fellow players’ opinions, and the importance of listening to them and having an open mind. It was fantastic to hear this kind of thing, but there has been little discussion about it. On Tuesday, Kaepernick discussed Long’s comments and the absence of discussion around them:
“What’s funny to me I saw Chris Long spoke out about it, but no one wants to talk about what he said and him bringing that to the forefront and speaking out against it, because that’s where it gets very touchy,” he said. “Because a white player standing up for this, it’s like OK, `Well, now we really have to address this because it’s not just black people speaking out because they feel like they’re being attacked. No, it’s a real issue, and it’s disproportionately an issue to people of color.’ I think it was huge that Chris stood up and took that stand.”
This whole situation is on a bit of a slow burn. People have been passionate about it, but it is taking time to expand. Each week we see a few more players offering some kind of demonstration, whether it be a raised fist, a knee, or interlocked arms. Each week we hear of more players getting involved and offering up their critiques. We’ve seen the four Miami Dolphins players who took a knee meet with local police and community leads. On Thursday, Doug Baldwin called for state attorney generals to review policies and training policies for police and other law enforcement.
It’s a developing process. I do agree that white players stepping forward in vocal support would impact it. Opposition to the demonstrations will remain, but if we saw notable white players step up, it would be interesting to see what happens with this kind of survey of how players are viewed by Americans. And more importantly, how they are viewed by white Americans versus black Americans. We won’t see changes immediately, but the long game will be something to watch.