Let’s Find a Way to Come Together

by Bennie Swans.
Chairman HCDP

I want to reprint here the first part of the Sports Illustrated article announcing that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had been selected to receive the SI Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for 2017:

Colin Kaepernick made his truth known when he first decided not to stand for the national anthem. He had a lot of football left to play and a lot more money to make when he made his decision. It was late August, 2016. People who were anonymous in life had become famous in death. Philando Castile. Eric Garner​. Alton Sterling. Freddie Gray. They were tragic symbols of a society that had taken a terribly wrong turn. As the anthem played ahead of the 49ers’ preseason game against the Texans, Kaepernick, San Francisco’s 28-year-old quarterback at the time, quietly took a seat on the bench.

It took two weeks for anyone from the media to ask him about it. Kaepernick explained that he was making a statement about inequality and social justice, about the ways this country “oppresses black people and people of color.”

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

In the last 16 months, Kaepernick’s truth has been twisted, distorted and used for political gain. It has cost him at least a year of his NFL career and the income that should have come with it. But still, it is his truth. He has not wavered from it. He does not regret speaking it. He has caused millions of people to examine it. And, quietly, he has donated nearly a million dollars to support it.

For all those reasons—for his steadfastness in the fight for social justice, for his adherence to his beliefs no matter the cost—Colin Kaepernick is the recipient of the 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.

Since then, athletes from across the nation, mostly black NFL players, have quietly taken a knee as the national anthem is played prior to their games. They have done so to express their solidarity with Kaepernick and to demonstrate their concern about, and opposition to, the inequality and social injustice that still exists in our nation.

For that they have been excoriated by millions of pro football fans and the President of the United States who have twisted their protest, claiming that it somehow shows disrespect to our flag. In my opinion, that is simply a cover-up for their true feelings of racial distrust, even hatred.

I continue to worry about that. I have grown up with it and have protested against it many times over. I have attempted to demonstrate in my life, by my own actions, that there is no reason for this. No good reason. But it is still there, and it has grown worse with the divisions promoted by Donald Trump. It festers, and it seems that we are unable to even rationally discuss it among ourselves, black and white.

I have to say that last week when former North Charleston patrolman Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison for gunning down Walter Scott, an unarmed black motorist, I was shocked. U.S. District Judge David Norton said Slager shot Scott with “malice and recklessness” and then gave false testimony to investigators. He ruled that Slager, 36, was guilty of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, and also sentenced Slager to two years of supervision after his release.

Why was I shocked?

I’ve seen this story play out so many times over the years, and I just felt that the system would once again find a way to avoid sending this white cop to prison for killing an unarmed black man.

But the fact that I was surprised, as were many of my friends and neighbors, tells me that we have a long way to go in this country when it comes to race relations. The divides persist, often unspoken, but they are there. Somehow, we must have meaningful conversations so we can overcome these feelings and come together.

If I had a magic wand it would be to help us find a way to end this divide that exists among our people, black and white, Republicans and Democrats alike. Often, people conclude it is safer to avoid the topic. But by doing that, those feelings fester, nothing gets solved, and then we have more Michael Slagers who disrespect, and worse, attack innocent people simply because of the color of their skin.

As we approach the Christmas season, that is my prayer for all of us. Let us find a way to come together.

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