A common sentiment among American sports fans is that sports is a place for escape. That sentiment at bare minimum is a very simplistic example of say it with me….Privilege. Yes, privilege. While a break from everyday stress is something most people can appreciate, the idea that sports can somehow provide an escape is a luxury that African-Americans and other people of color simply do not have. Comments like “I watch sports to escape life and politics” or “I just want to be dumb for a while” especially in the midst of the ongoing demonstrations by athletes against police brutality and racial injustices seem to come off at worst, divisive and dismissive, or at best, willfully naive. It’s fascinating that in a country that is 63% white, people want to “escape” while viewing a league that is 68% black and it is instantly less fun if they’re made to “think about real life”.
Which lends questions as to what are people really escaping? In most instances that a professional athlete speaks on anything besides their sport they’re quickly demanded to “stick to football, etc”. Unfortunately, no matter how much fans want them to “stick to football” our black athletes can not escape the reality of being black in America. Ask OJ Simpson, he damn sure tried. Ask Cam Newton, he’s tried too. Until it found it’s way to his front door with the police involved death of Keith Scott and his recent media tap dance routine has left him in a no win position with public opinion. History cannot be re-written and you can not outrun racism in America. For black people in America there simply is no escape from it when you are destined for it’s presence in your life. Either overtly, insidiously, or both it will without a doubt find you, haunt you, and even kill you. Doesn’t matter how well one throws a spiral or how well you draft a fantasy team, you can not escape that reality.
In the particular case of Kaepernick’s protest, racism has reared it’s ugly head under the guise of patriotism. The same patriotism that won’t allow one to accept not standing for the National Anthem, but is unfazed by Colin Kaepernick receiving death threats by doing so. The outrage that has ensued surrounding Colin Kaepernick and other athletes, not standing for the National Anthem in protest of racial injustice and police brutality is offensive to many. It’s also an annoyance to some, but that feeling is exactly the point of the protest. So the protest makes you uncomfortable? The anthem last roughly two minutes. Welcome to the everyday experience for people of color in America, whether in the workplace, a sports team, or when pulled over by the police. People are dying in the streets unjustly, at the hands of police officers, sworn to protect them. Colin Kaepernick made it very clear that is his reason for not standing. Yet instead of empathy, or listening at the very least, he’s met with anger. America’s ideals seem to be above reproach for some people. The people that would rather immediately look for reasons why it was ok for someone to be killed rather than questioning why. You want sports to be your escape? I’m sure Kaep would like that too, but real life is happening every second all around us. So sure, Colin Kaepernick is ruining the football experience we’re accustomed to. That leaves a decent amount of time for introspection or maybe the game is still on.