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15 Nov

Colin Kaepernick Will Not Be Silenced

He’s been vilified by millions and locked out of the NFL—all because he took a knee to protest police brutality. But Colin Kaepernick’s determined stand puts him in rare company in sports history: Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson—athletes who risked everything to make a difference.

In 2013, Colin Kaepernick was on the cover of this magazine because he was one of the best football players in the world. In 2017, Colin Kaepernick is on GQ‘s cover once again—but this time it is because he isn’t playing football. And it’s not because he’s hurt, or because he’s broken any rules, or because he’s not good enough. Approximately 90 men are currently employed as quarterbacks in the NFL, as either starters or reserves, and Colin Kaepernick is better—indisputably, undeniably, flat-out better—than at least 70 of them. He is still, to this day, one of the most gifted quarterbacks on earth. And yet he has been locked out of the game he loves—blackballed—because of one simple gesture: He knelt during the playing of our national anthem. And he did it for a clear reason, one that has been lost in the yearlong storm that followed. He did it to protest systemic oppression and, more specifically, as he said repeatedly at the time, police brutality toward black people.

When we began discussing this GQ cover with Colin earlier this fall, he told us the reason he wanted to participate is that he wants to reclaim the narrative of his protest, which has been hijacked by a president eager to make this moment about himself. But Colin also made it clear to us that he intended to remain silent. As his public identity has begun to shift from football star to embattled activist, he has grown wise to the power of his silence. It has helped his story go around the world. It has even provoked the ire and ill temper of Donald Trump. Why talk now, when your detractors will only twist your words and use them against you? Why speak now, when silence has done so much?

At the same time, Colin is all too aware that silence creates a vacuum, and that if it doesn’t get filled somehow, someone else will fill it for him. In our many conversations with Colin about this project, we discussed the history of athletes and civil rights, and the indelible moments it called to mind, and we decided that we’d use photography—the power of imagery and iconography—to do the talking.

By the end of the 1960s, Muhammad Ali’s stand against the Vietnam War—he’d marched in Harlem with the Nation of Islam after he was drafted and refused to serve—resulted in him being locked out of his sport for three years, at the peak of his talent, much as Colin is now. He continued to train throughout that period, waiting for his chance to return to boxing. He was known for jogging in the streets, and kids would chase him—the People’s Champ, boosted in his darkest days by the joy of his truest fans. That’s why we decided to photograph Colin in public, in Harlem, among the men, women, and children he is fighting for. To connect him to a crusade that stretches back decades. And because Colin has spent a year as a man without a team, we worked with him to assemble a new one: ten of his closest confidants—artists, activists, academics, and one legend of the civil rights movement—who shared with GQ what Colin’s protest means to them, and what we all should do next.

Ava DuVernay

Filmmaker, Selma, 13th, and 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time

I see what he’s done as art. I believe that art is seeing the world that doesn’t exist. A lot of people excel at creativity—making TV, movies, painting, writing books—but you can be an artist in your own life. Civil rights activists are artists. Athletes are artists. People who imagine something that is not there. I think some folks see his protests, his resistance, as not his work. Not intentional. Not strategic. Not as progressive action. As if this was just a moment that he got caught up in. This was work. This is work that he’s doing.

The last time I saw him was the night after Trump called him out at the Alabama rally. It was a really dynamic weekend. I had dinner with him and Nessa [Kaepernick’s partner]. To be able to sit with that brother on this particular day—on the day between two historic cultural moments that swirled around him—was shape-shifting for me. Being able to observe that and witness his stillness and wisdom—I’m just really honored to know him. He’s sitting there and I’m sitting there and I’m like, “Look at this brother—he’s doing better than any of us would’ve done.” A lot better. With a lot more elegance.


Carmen Perez

Activist, executive director of The Gathering for Justice, which addresses mass incarceration and child incarceration

What I always tell people is, I could teach you about the law, I could teach you about the criminal-justice system—but I can’t teach you how to have heart. We don’t need a movement full of experts. We need people who care deeply to stand up and offer what they have, because there’s a role for everyone. You make music? Make some for the movement. You cook? Organizers need to be fed. You teach self-defense or yoga? Help people heal. You’re an athlete? Use your platform to raise awareness. It’s not about everyone trying to become the next Martin Luther King Jr., because he had clergymen and journalists and artists like Harry Belafonte. It’s about how we connect to our neighbor and offer our skill set. As Mr. Belafonte has said: Don’t pay me back—pay it back to the cause.

I want people to understand that even if incarceration doesn’t personally impact you, or police brutality doesn’t personally impact you, you can still be involved. How can we show these mothers who are suffering that we love them and we care about them? I often ask: Can we see our liberation bound to one another’s? I’m a proud Mexican-American and Chicana who deeply believes that black lives matter and that once black people are free, then my people will be free.


WATCH

What Mike Pence’s Cynical Anthem Stunt Cost

It’s a problem that we’ve decided the conversation leans on “Does Colin want to be an activist, or does he want to be an athlete?” As if the two cannot happen simultaneously. You can care about people and play sports. Athletes do it all the time. The problem is that his particular activism was toward the cause of blackness. That’s what he’s being ostracized for. You see players talk all the time about their nonprofit organizations, their donation to this foundation they work with. Nobody’s talking about them not being able to juggle their football careers and being helpful to the community. It’s only with him that it’s questioned. The irony now is that the NFL is trying to make him voiceless because he made himself a voice for the voiceless. Which is one of the reasons I’ll die on that sword to defend what he has done. Because he did it for the people.

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7 Responses to “Colin Kaepernick Will Not Be Silenced”

  1. 1
    llan Reynolds Says:

    The problem Richard would appear to be the way the players have made their demonstrations. By kneeling and looking down and away from the flag they give the appearance of disdain for the flag and the anthem that celebrates it ; that infuriates those of us who wore our countries uniform. As a consequence his message and that of the other NFL players that kneel is lost in the audience fury. They should do it the way the black player at Annapolis did it: he put that flag over his shoulder and then knelt, thus showing respect for the flag whole trying to send his message that America has historically and currently treated his people with disdain. Just sayin.
    By the way I remember you running track at Imax back in the day. You were pretty quick.

  2. 2
    The McGlynn Says:

    Fair point. I served in the Armed Forces during the Korean War. Saw no combat.
    I, for one, will and always have supported the minorities in their struggle. We are a very intense racist country, led by a racist, bigoted leader. I think your view is misdirected. Better to address the illness affecting our country and support those trying to right nearly two centuries of evil.

  3. 3
    Paul Irelan Says:

    The illness in this country is the fact that a criminal was thank god not elected as president. if she were then the country would be sold down the drain. clintons ,obama, holter, lynch, and comey all came from the same trash , to destroy all that was fought for and people died. if you didn’t see combat then you must have been far away from it.

  4. 4
    The McGlynn Says:

    Mr. Irelan, your ignorance is overwhelming

  5. 5
    The McGlynn Says:

    You better believe it! Trump the Dump is not my president

  6. 6
    The McGlynn Says:

    Is that Trump the Dump blowing fire? Sure looks like jackass.

  7. 7
    Paul Says:

    I have tremendous admiration for this courageous athlete with a conscience and completely agree with you. The “National Anthem” as well as the Pledge of Allegiance are not some sort of loyalty oath that we as Americans are required to recite, especially during this time of dire circumstances when we see people of color ruthlessly murdered whether on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri or across the Middle East. Trump has been fueling the flames of racism, xenophobia, and fascism. The patriotic draft dodger and tweeter-in-chief con man. Colin Kaepernick represents what my father fought for in World War II – the right of all Americans to liberty and justice. There will be no American flag at this home and no longer will I stand for a meaningless song or make a pledge to a flag that is increasingly taking on the symbolic status of the Nazi swastika.

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