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    In this Oct. 2, 2016 file photo, from left, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, Calif.

    Is the NFL 'Vilifying' US Football Players Who 'Stand Up' to Racism?

    © AP Photo / Marcio Jose Sanchez, File
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    After a young woman was killed in Charlottesville following a rally which once again highlighted America's racial divide, politicians and regular folks weren't the only ones to condemn the act. NFL star Michael Bennet joined a list of athletes, including long-term friend Colin Kaepernick, who has been "standing up" to racism over the years.

    Michael Bennett, who plays for the Seattle Seahawks, decided to sit down with a towel draped over his head while the US national anthem played on Sunday, 13 August.

    Bennett's decision followed a clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters opposing their "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, August 12, which turned deadly. Thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer lost her life aftera truck had plowed into the crowd. 

    Bennett plans to continue his protest and claims that his non-violent stance was influenced by the far-right violence in Charlottesville.  

    "Seeing everything in Virginia and stuff that is going on I just wanted to be able to use my platform to continuously speak out on injustice," Bennett said.

    Baskedball player LeBron James also spoke out against the injustice, saying that what took place in Virginia was "sad."

    In addition, no Virginia sporting events took place over the weekend of the rally. Virginia University, in coordination with Charlottesville and Albemarle Counties declared a state of emergency, canceling both the football team's annual "Meet the Team" event, as well as the men's soccer team exhibition game against Wright State.

    The women's soccer team had also canceled its Sunday exhibition events.

    Colin Kaepernick Sets the Trend

    ​As racial tensions in the US have failed to subside over the last couple of years, more sport stars have followed the path of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The football star famously refused to stand while the Star-Spangled Banner anthem played, choosing to kneel instead.

    According to the Kaepernick, he did this to highlight the injustice faced by people of color and ethnic minorities in the US and beyond. 

    "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game in 2016.

    "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder," Kaepernick said.

    Colin Kaepernick, a friend of Michael Bennett, opted out of his contract and left his team in March 2017. He remains unsigned to this day, and some say this is due to the fact that the NFL have waged war against him.

    Cassius Rudolph, communications director for the People's Consortium for Human and Civil Rights, Inc. — an advocacy group committed to the spiritual, social, political, and economic liberation for all people through non-violent action — believes that the reason Kaepernick has not been signed is because he used his platform to speak out about injustice in a non-violent way.

    The group is planning to rally outside the NFL headquarters in New York City on Wednesday, August 23 to protest against the fact that Kaepernick has yet to be signed.  

    "We know that he [Kaepernick] is not tired of football. He is a career player in the NFL, so the main reason behind us rallying at the NFL headquarters is we believe that Kaepernick has been silenced or blacklisted for standing up for what he believed in. We know he knelt in response to what has been going on towards people of color and police brutality, and now we are seeing a ripple effect," Mr. Rudolph said.

    "I think people should have the right to speak and stand up for what they believe in, and the NFL is using Kaepernick as an example for what they want players not to do. Originally when he did it, others followed, but those players are working, so why are they working and not him? Is it because he led it?" Mr. Rudolph told Sputnik. 

    Michael Bennett is going to continue his plan to sit down while the national anthem is played, so might he face a similar fate to Kaepernick in the near future?

    The Others

    Colin Kaepernick is not the only sports star or NFL player to use the field as a platform to stand up for injustice.

    Seattle Seahawks player Jeremy Lane sat down during national anthem in September 2016. Eric Reid, who currently plays for the San Francisco 49ers, also refused to stand during the national anthem in 2016.

    Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball star, and boxing champion Mohammed Ali are also examples of athletes whose careers changed as a result of standing up for what they believed in.

    Olympic track and field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos were suspended from the US team and received deaths threats after raising their black gloves and fist during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics.

    Mr. Rudolph said that campaigners can and are organizing various non-violent ways to show support for the athletes that get shunned. Boycotting NFL games until Kaepernick has been signed to a team is one of them.

    "We stand with Colin Kaepernick because we affirm that sacred right of all citizens to engage in field disobedience and non-violent direct action, when they disagree with the state of affairs in America. Civil disobedience and non-violent direct action has been used to compel America to remain true to its ideal. So Colin's action is a moral act to raise the conscious of Americans who have ignored the realities of racial injustice," Mr. Rudolph told Sputnik.

    'Pariah Status'

    Reports that Kaepernick is not 100 percent committed and that he is more concerned with activism have become common within NFL circles.

    According to sports writer and journalist Dave Zirin, some reports have claimed that Kaepernick is a "distraction" and that he wants "too much money." Zirin has claimed this is all wrong.

    "What is happening is a cycle of disinformation, carried out by media members who might as well wear the NFL brand tattooed on the small of their backs," Zirin reported in The Nation.

    ​Dave Zirin concludes that Kaepernick has a "pariah status," because he refused to stand during the anthem and this is the reason why the NFL is at war with the football star and he has yet to be signed.

    "I have spoken with Kaepernick, and I can say that he wants to play. He is training six days a week, and he is not holding out for money. He simply wants a camp invite. As lesser back-up quarterbacks continue to be signed, his pariah status has become a spectacle without precedent," Zirin wroted.


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    racial bias, tension, national anthem, sportsmen, sports, football, Charlottesville violence, NFL, National Football League, Michael Bennett, Colin Kaepernick, Charlottesville, United States
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