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How one man’s actions shook the entire sport’s world

The movement against bigotry and racism took a whole new turn with the inauguration of US president,  Donald Trump on January 20, 2017. His strong opinions on illegal immigrants and people of colour have received a lot of negative reactions of many persons across the country. This became evident when a few sportsmen began the movement to speak against social injustice. In a bid to counter the negativity created by some of President Trump words, the sportsmen, particularly National Football League (NFL) players in a bold gesture knelt as opposed to standing during the national anthem before every game, and more recently, locking arms.

The move caused a huge stir, as more and more sportsmen joined in, while others simply did not want the drama that came with it. Inevitably, this began to provoke many fans who equated the movement as a blatant disrespect to the Nation and its founding fathers. To put things in context, the NFL, experienced a decline in ticket sales owing to the seeming disrespect many patriotic Americans felt from the players they had paid to come watch.

In the front line of this controversy is the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick whose fight against social injustice and police brutality created a huge reaction than any we have seen in recent history. Many other athletes stood by Kaepernick, while he faced massive scrutiny against those who didn’t believe his actions were appropriate. When queried on his actions he stated:

“To me, this is something that has to change. And when there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

Thousand of fans were reclined from the simplicity of coming to spectate a match, and generally having a good time, to coming to see whether players would kneel during the national anthem or stand. This quickly became an ugly distraction and evidently began to cost the league some money. A lot of people really did not appreciate Kaepernick’s actions and soon after the big boys decided to take some drastic measures.

At first, Kaepernick was reduced from the starting quarterback on his team to a bench player and as time passed, his playing time continued to decline. Even when they put him in, boos were heavily rained down on him. After the expiration of his contract, his team refused to resign him, and he became an unrestricted free agent. Ever since then, no team has agreed to sign him. He dismissed this as a conspiracy against him. He filed a grievance, accusing NFL team owners of conspiring to keep him out of the league. But the reaction he caused and the money he has cost the league would be enough to scare any team owner from signing him. To them, it is simply not worth it, and definitely not good for business, although many would beg to differ.

In a bid to keep other players in check, On May 23, 2018, the NFL team owners released a statement declaring that all field personnel under the employ of the league must stand during the national anthem, following the public outrage directed to them.

This statement was in contrast to what they initially stated before the kneeling fad became too big for them to handle.

“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognise the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.” This was the statement released by the 49ers the first time Kaepernick knelt.

But Kaepernick did not sit idly by after his dismissal, he has been involved in a few things. Most notable of these was when Nike decided to make him the face of their 30th anniversary “Just do it” tagline. The ad spawned the airways, as it trended for days and had many people coming up with their own version of the message.

He was named an Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience, the human rights group’s highest honour.

Also, a lot of celebrities, like Rihanna, Chris Paul, Lebron James, J. Cole have rallied by the athlete’s side, to show their support, as they are of the opinion that he is doing the right thing, which is exercising his right to freedom of speech and freedom of protest, despite the harm it is causing his football career.

But in all, it is amazing to see how much one man’s actions can be the generator of so much change and is a clear representation of Nike’s ad on sacrifice.

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