It’s good to know that Colin Kaepernick is not alone.
NFL stars Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett both decided to sit down during the national anthem in recent preseason games. Their gestures not only served as protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S., but also proved that a few of Kaepernick’s high-profiled peers are willing to risk their livelihoods to join him in his cause.
But imagine if it was LeBron James who we saw sitting down or taking a knee during the national anthem in a nationally-televised game.
What would the world say then?
Just about a year ago, when Kaepernick first began his season-long protest, LeBron spoke in support of the 29-year-old Black quarterback and his protest of police brutality against Black people. But he also explained why he wouldn’t be joining him in taking a knee.
“Standing for the national anthem is something I will do. That’s who I am. That’s what I believe in,” James told reporters last summer. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and don’t believe in what Colin Kaepernick is doing. You have the right to voice your opinion, stand for your opinion, and he’s doing it in the most peaceful way I’ve ever seen someone do something.”
LeBron has certainly used his megastar status as a platform to speak out on social injustices on multiple occasions in the past. He teamed up with some of his NBA colleagues to use ESPN’s ESPYs awards show, a nationally televised program, to eloquently speak out against the ongoing epidemic of police officers unjustly murdering unarmed Black folks in America. He even used his influential power and position as the face of the NBA to get former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling ousted from the league after audio footage surfaced exposing racist comments from Sterling, including him telling his girlfriend not to bring Black people to his arena.
But none of what LeBron has done so far has been nearly as bold as him sitting down or taking a knee during the anthem would be.
We all see just how brave Kaepernick was as we witness him endure the consequences of his actions. More importantly, we see now the difference between words and action. We see the difference between merely speaking out against oppression and actually doing something that offends the oppressor and drives home the point that you’re not going to accept being oppressed anymore.
That takes a greater level of courage, and Michael Bennett realized that when he told reporters a week ago that he plans on sitting down during the anthem for the entire upcoming NFL season. A ton of players took a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick last year, but it was uncertain if any players would continue protesting this year after witnessing Kaep get practically blackballed from the league.
Bennett let it be known he won’t be deterred.
“At the end of the day, I’m being vulnerable right now,” Bennett said. “There’s a whole bunch of people right now sitting at home judging me, but they’ll never get to this point where they can be vulnerable. I let people attack me because they don’t believe in what I believe in, but at the end of the day I’m being vulnerable to show every person, no matter what you believe in, to keep fighting for it. Keep fighting for equality, keep fighting oppression, keep trying to change society, that’s all it’s really about.”
Bennett, a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, is an All-Pro player on one of the more popular teams in the NFL, so his voice will be heard by millions. But much like Kaepernick, Bennett’s fame and stardom dims in comparison to LeBron.
There is no active pro athlete of any sport more famous than LeBron James. In fact, it’s hard to argue there being many Black celebrities in general with a greater brand and following than LeBron. Everybody knows who LeBron James is. My grandmother doesn’t watch sports, and she even knows who LeBron is. She hasn’t a clue who Michael Bennett is, though.
So, again, I ask you to imagine the impact it would make to turn on your television, computer or smart phone and see video footage of our most prominent athlete sitting down or kneeling in protest. The last time we witnessed any superstar athlete as famous as LeBron take such a bold stance in protest was Muhammad Ali more than 40 years ago.
LeBron recently tweeted a video clip of Muhammad Ali doing a TV interview with UKTV in 1971. LeBron called Ali the G.O.A.T., an acronym for “greatest of all time,” for expressing during the interview why he felt pro athletes should use their platform for activism.
“I get more praise and credit [for speaking out against social injustices] then I would for coming here and beating five of your English champions,” Ali said during the interview. “Right now Black people are at home jumping and shouting for joy because I have the nerve to say what I’m saying and they’re happy to see a Black man stand up and jeopardize every coin he ever made to tell the truth.
“When one man of popularity can let the world know a problem, he might lose a few dollars himself telling the truth,” Ali continued. “He might even lose his life, but he’s helping millions.”
There’s no denying that if Ali was alive and well today, he would be kneeling in protest with Kaepernick. But what about LeBron?
LeBron sitting or taking a knee would have the entire world buzzing, and that’s exactly what we need right now to let everyone know that this conversation will never be over until real change comes.