By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
The struggle continues. You won’t see a tweet from the White House on the act of terror involving bananas left dangling from strings fashioned into a noose designed to intimidate members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority on the campus of American University.
No Congressional hearing is likely for yet another Black teenager – this one with a 3.5 grade point average and irreproachable character say those who knew him – dead after a Balch Springs, Texas officer allegedly shot into a car in which he was riding as they drove away.
Yet In the wake of an NFL draft considered one of the skimpiest on game-ready quarterbacks in recent history, Colin Kaepernick – who led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 – still has no team to call his own because he dared to go public decrying the racial climate gripping the U.S.
The National Football League has virtually blackballed this young talented athlete because he chose to take a stand last season by sitting, then kneeling, during the national anthem to object to oppressions of Black people and people of color in the U.S.
Apologists for the league insists that Kaepernick’s diminishing talent and anticipated high price tag are the real reason for teams opting to pass on his once-coveted skills. Given the lack of talent at his position, it is hard to buy into that logic.
It’s hard to believe that the lowly Cleveland Browns, who have tried 26 different quarterbacks since 1999, wouldn’t benefit from giving Kaepernick a shot at answering their problem – or that the similarly unaccomplished Chicago Bears are better off banking their team’s future on unproven QB Mike Glennon and rookie Mitchell Trubinsky.
The New York Jets quarterback situation is just as pathetic but not even a glance toward Kaepernick because team owner Woody Johnson publicly opposed his protest. The pitiful Buffalo Bills have not gone to the post-season playoffs in the past 17 years but they won’t entertain the notion of hiring Kaepernick.
While game dynamics are important in painting the picture, the truth of the matter is that Kaepernick’s predicament transcends sports. It centers much more on white dominance and the lack of Black influence on the hierarchy of professional sports.
Too many African Americans with voice in sports have either cowardly chosen to deride Kaepernick or to take the “fifth,” opting to remain mum on the issue. Clearly, athletes who consider job security their first priority accept unspoken commands to stay in their place.
Kaepernick isn’t the first to be ostracized from professional sports for speaking out against injustices. Former Chicago Bull Craig Hodges was the best three-point shooter in the league, banned by the NBA for being too vocal on Black social and political issues. He took it a step farther challenging megastar teammate Michael Jordan to do the same.
Of course, the corporate-minded politically correct Jordan would have none of it.
Covering Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration in July of 1992, I spoke with Craig Hodges in the Indiana Convention Center. It was a day after he was let go by the Chicago Bulls. Hodges wore a full-length, colorful dashiki with sandals and spoke in a strong voice.
It was similar to the one he wore to the White House when the first President Bush hosted the Bulls in a congratulatory session after their championship season. Not only did Hodges dress his own way for the occasion, but he hand delivered a letter to the President urging him to do more to eradicate injustice in the African American community.
He said that was objectionable to the Chicago franchise management as well as its franchise player. “You know the Bulls didn’t waive me because of my talent,” he spoke confidently. “I led the NBA in three-point shooting. They threw me off the team because I speak my mind when it comes to racism. And they didn’t like me calling out Mike, either.”
“Look around,” Hodges said, pointing to thousands traipsing through the downtown Indianapolis convention center. “You don’t see Michael Jordan anywhere around here do you? You won’t see him. Not this year – not any year. He’s not going to be a part of any event or organization that has the word ‘Black’ in the name.”
Hodges told me the $60 million “lifetime” contract Jordan signed with Nike meant they effectively owned him. I remember him repeating incredulously, “Lifetime? Lifetime?” I recall Hodges speculating that after the Bulls terminated his services, they would likely do whatever they could to make it difficult for him to resume his career with another team.
He was prophetic. Craig Hodges never stepped on to another NBA court as a player and as a result lost potentially millions of dollars in income.
Unless things change, the same fate awaits Kaepernick. In the end, these champions accept the risk believing there can be no price tag on dignity.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].