How Did The George Floyd Murder Vindicate Colin Kaepernick & Change Racism Forever?
On November 23rd, a delegation of five NBA players and several league officials met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss social justice issues. The Pope wanted to learn more about the issues NBA players have been so passionate about.
Among those in attendance was Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown, who urged his team to boycott a game in the NBA Bubble after the police shooting death of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Despite being a millionaire NBA player, Brown was racially profiled and tased during a run-in with police in 2018 and received a $700,000 settlement from the city of Milwaukee.
The fight for social justice and racial equality is a continuous and multi-faceted struggle all too familiar to African-Americans, who started as slaves 400 years ago, stolen from their homelands and trafficked halfway across the globe.
They were forced to endure squalor and the most inhumane conditions while chained together and packed in boats like sardines.
Survival was a miracle as they were strong-armed into laboring the land and building America for free, while having their family and culture stripped from them and their spirit beaten out of them at every opportunity.
While enduring violence and oppression and racial discrimination is an existence that is embedded in the historical and genetic framework of the African Diaspora — resilience, persistence and prospering in the face of adversity is also part of that Black experience in America.
From the slave revolts to the peaceful protests of the Civil Rights movement, Black Americans have fought against the systemic racism, police brutality, and the prison industrial complex, economic and racial inequities that sully the foundation of our country’s so-called democracy.
While some Black people were able to rise above their conditions and elevate to affluent positions as political leaders, entertainers, athletes, business executives and entrepreneurs, the general consensus remains that the Black population in America is underserved, under-resourced, unheard, underrepresented and over-policed.
For every P. Diddy, Barack Obama, Guion Bluford, Serena Williams, Kamala Harris or Chris Gardner — who made the impossible probable — there are ten times as many tragic stories of innocent, unarmed people such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and Jacob Blake, who have had vibrant lives cut short by the death blow of systemic racism.
Colin Kaepernick, Chapter 1: The Vilified Hero
The long history of racial tension between the San Francisco Police Department and Black residents, the growing number of Blacks dying at the hands of cops and the death of Mario Woods on December 2nd, 2015, was the breaking point for NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
By first sitting and then kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to the oppression of POC in the U.S., the quarterback risked his career to give a voice to the voiceless.
Kaepernick’s actions (which he expressed at the suggestion of retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer) set off a shockwave of racial tension, fueled by the President of the United States, racially-insensitive NFL owners and a misguided narrative that Kaepernick kneeling during the “Star-Spangled Banner” was somehow disrespectful to the military.
The irony of it all is that the National Anthem is actually extremely disrespectful to Black people and a reminder of the racial oppression ingrained in the fabric of our nation.
Even as a Black man was recognized as being one of the most successful presidents in the history of the United States, one cannot refute the racism within the third stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battles confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Ultimately, a conscientious national populous can see exactly what Francis Scott Key was getting at in this rarely recited verse and its continued contemporary legacy, witnessed in racist police practices, defunded schooling and increased prison funding. But those who don’t want to see it cannot be forced or coerced into it.
As owners and some NFL fans lashed out against Kaepernick’s peaceful protest, other players around the league and stars from various sports started joining Kaepernick’s crusade against racial injustice.
When U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe joined Kaepernick in taking a knee during the anthem at a National Women’s Soccer League match between the Chicago Red Stars and Seattle Reign F.C., the floodgates were open, and Kaepernick’s protest had officially taken on a life of its own. It was no longer just about race. It was about fundamental cracks in our country’s foundation.
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” Rapinoe told Halloran. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”
In the weeks following his initial protest in 2016, a groundswell of support for Kaepernick manifested in groups calling for a boycott of the NFL. Fans demanded the NFL to let Kaepernick return to work.
The NAACP, in particular, implored people to withhold their financial support of the NFL unless the league finds a landing spot for the activist-athlete.
Any sensible person understood that Kaepernick’s stance against the corrosive ills of society was an admirable one that should have been supported by a league that boasts a 70 percent Black player populous and fancies itself as the greatest show on earth.
Instead, the owners exasperated the situation by threatening to cut and fine players who peacefully protested. Twisting the narrative and making it about the flag in order to apply pressure to the players and turn fans against them.
Owners vs. Players: Money Over Morals
A war of words ensued between the NFL owners and the Black players, and the rift cut even deeper throughout the country, where Kaepernick’s silent protest became the talking point of every radio and T.V. show, social media post, dinner table discussion and causal barbershop rap session.
It somehow morphed into a political issue, with white supremacists and right-wing Republicans supporting any opinion against the Super Bowl quarterback that was misguided and misinformed. It was reminiscent of a dark time in our country’s history.
The NFL’s white power brokers ignored the desperate cries of their players and chose to participate in an all-out assault on Kaepernick’s character.
After all, he wasn’t considered a face of the game. His jersey wasn’t selling out the stores (at the time). He wasn’t one of the League’s major money makers at the time of his peaceful protests, so he was expendable.
On the flip side, they blamed him for driving fans away and costing them advertising dollars with major brands.
In 2017, former Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter blamed sluggish pizza sales on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and severed ties with the NFL because of it.
In short order, Schnatter stepped down, the company apologized for its stance on protests and hired NBA legend and business mogul Shaquille O’Neal as the first Black person appointed to Papa John’s Board of Directors in 2019.
The NFL owners, along with the lawmakers and news stations they control, continued to demonize Kaepernick, colluding to make sure that he never plays another down again.
They said he was “bad for business” and that the football field was not the place to express his social beliefs.
But as the days turned to seasons and more Black people continued to die at the hands of overzealous law enforcement, Kaepernick’s absence in the NFL became a glaring symbol of the systemic racism that still runs vibrantly through executive branches of the major sports, despite the number of millionaire Blacks on the payroll.
The social consciousness that Kaepernick sparked in a new generation, as well as the uncomfortable truths he made America face, didn’t immediately result in the systemic improvements he was aiming for because the people best equipped to help foster this change were the most resistant to his message.
8 Minutes and 46 Seconds Changed The World
Just as it seemed that Black America would be permanently engulfed by the status quo, an eight-minute and 46-second span of time that seemed like an eternity changed everything overnight.
On May 25th, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after a convenience store employee dialed 911 and reported that Floyd purchased cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.
A disturbing and shocking video emerged that went viral, of Derek Chauvin and other officers pinning Floyd to the ground until he showed no signs of life.
Officer Chauvin, who is white, kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe,” as he pleaded for his life. Floyd even called out to his deceased mother at one point.
The callousness exhibited by the officers sparked outrage, and mass protests galvanizing people of all races, creeds and colors erupted across the U.S. and around the world.
With the world watching on CNN, FOX, MSNBC and other news outlets, Minnesota P.D. took unusually swift action and fired all four of the officers involved, charging them with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges.
On June 3rd, Hennepin County prosecutors added a second-degree murder charge against Chauvin and also charged each of the three other former officers — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
COVID pandemic made the world stop, look, listen.
With COVID-19 ravaging the country, shutting down unessential businesses, restaurants, arts, sports, entertainment and a contentious Presidential election brewing, the American people were already frustrated as unemployment swelled to 40 million at one point.
“The video felt around the world” gave everyone a reason to finally speak their truth and be heard for the first time.
Black people have protested against racial injustice and police brutality in the past, but in recent memory, there hasn’t been an instance where so many people across the globe have come together to march in the streets with a common goal of making the world better for everyone.
In response, Mayors and city councilors started vowing to reform police departments, confederate statues were removed, museum exhibits and certain T.V. episodes were recalled, Broadway and movie roles were re-casted with darker-skinned talent, and even staple American brands such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s rice changed their names.
However, it’s easy to say “Black Lives Matter.” It’s easy to put statements out, and although symbolism is important, if change is going to be transformative, symbols are not going to be enough.
One of the biggest culprits in the continued systemic oppression of Blacks in America is “big business.” In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, major conglomerates started promising greater diversity and inclusivity.
Corporate America Is Listening
Progress is made at God’s pace, but the murder of George Floyd finally made Americans stand up and say, “It’s time for change.”
Black voices have never been so loud and powerful and influential. Corporate America is finally listening, and over the past year, has responded with what we hope is a new approach to real diversity.
We’d like to think that Floyd’s murder was the reckoning America needed because of how vicious it was. The video itself surely made some people vomit and simply made others take a deep look at what they have done personally to contribute to or help stop racism.
It humanized George and all of the past victims who died at the hands of the police. There wasn’t a person with proper eyesight who could look at that video and deny that the police were wrong.
However, it was the power of Benjamin Franklin that forced the action and will ensure that our country never returns to life before George Floyd’s death.
When players around the world of sports and black employees across major companies began speaking out, threatening to or actually walking off the job, the potential financial loss was enough to compel Fortune 500 CEOs, University Presidents, politicians and pro sports franchises to finally respond with statements in support of their employees and against systemic racism.
The NFL and its owners hoped that the $89 million deal it brokered with the Players Coalition in 2018 to fight social injustice would put an end to any in-game protests.
The protests stopped, but the systemic racism continued with the league’s inequitable hiring practices and all-white ownership group.
The police killings of unarmed Black men also continued to flow like the stream of generous PAC donations the NFL’s executive offices awarded to former President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
After George Floyd, it was Jacob Blake.
Justice For Jacob: A Real Change
In August, The Milwaukee Bucks started a sports-wide protest movement when they chose to boycott a playoff game as a way to show their anger and frustration with the shooting of Jacob Blake. After the Bucks and every other team scheduled to play that day refused to play, the NFL followed their lead, with many teams choosing to cancel practice.
With the 2020 season around the corner, NFL reporter Jim Trotter tweeted that a “few prominent Black players,” including $500 million man Patrick Mahomes had been considering sitting out a game to force significant change and real action. Such a move would have hit the owners — who only seem to speak the language of money — where it hurts, in the pockets.
When NFL players started speaking out against racial injustice and participating in national protests, it looked as if the 2020 season might be threatened. Players also started opting out of major sports and college seasons due to social injustice and COVID-19 issues.
Rather than risk losing the season, the league had a complete change of heart, with Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly apologizing to Kaepernick via video and admitting that the NFL mishandled the anthem protests and missed the true message.
Why the change of heart?
Capitalism has always driven the country and often serves as an excuse to abandon our decency and moral obligations as citizens. The capitalism of sports is no different.
When Blacks were freed from slavery, it wasn’t because America woke up and finally understood that it was immoral persecution to subject people of color to generational brutality and forced labor.
The white slave owners gave in because they found another means of exploiting the talents of Black Americans besides putting them to work in the cotton fields.
They realized even more money could be made by using Blacks to entertain, whether it’s singing, dancing or playing sports.
It’s always about the money. And when Black folks flexed their revenue-generating power and threatened to stop contributing to the corporate machine, that’s when the rest of America began showing interest in their plight.
Companies are usually quiet at moments of public upheaval and hesitant to take a political stand for fear of alienating customers. But after Floyd’s killing, businesses started coming out of the woodwork to express their solidarity with protesters, and some have donated millions of dollars to organizations dedicated to racial justice.
The major sports enterprises all released statements reaffirming their commitment to end systemic racism and announced intentions to make significant and tangible changes within their own institutions and how they do business.
Others have sworn to restructure their office culture and hiring practices to be more inclusive.
Juneteenth is an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States and has been celebrated by African-Americans since the late 1800s.
For the first time, it became a paid company holiday for employees at Nike, Twitter, Target, General Motors, the NFL and a variety of other businesses.
JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, other banks and smaller companies decided to recognize Juneteenth.
“Sephora’s (corporate) leaders committed to really setting targets to diversify their supplier chain to promote and help more Black businesses and Black entrepreneurs to get shelf space, and also committed to looking at their own corporate structure, said Nikole Hannah-Jones, a domestic correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and the lead creator of The 1619 Project, which examines the consequences of slavery.
Who is being hired? Whom do they have in higher levels of management? I think those things are more substantial.”
Adidas: Adidas pledged to fill at least 30 percent of all open positions at Adidas and Reebok, which it also owns, with black or Latinx candidates.
Amazon and IBM: Amazon placed a one-year moratorium on police use of Rekognition, its facial recognition technology, which has come under attack for its biased analysis of African-Americans.
Similarly, IBM’s CEO Arvind Krishna said it would no longer offer, develop or research facial recognition technology, citing potential human rights and privacy abuses.
Andreessen Horowitz: The investment firm donated $2.2 million to start the Talent x Opportunity fund, a program designed to provide entrepreneurs from underserved communities with seed capital and training to start businesses
Apple: Apple is creating an entrepreneurship camp for black software developers to promote their best work and ideas.
The computer software titan has also promised to increase the number of black-owned suppliers that provided materials for its operations.
PGA of America: The PGA of America announced that it is renaming its Horton Smith Award, effective immediately. Smith, a two-time Masters winner and president of the PGA from 1952-’54, was a staunch supporter and enforcer of the organization’s Caucasian-only clause, which was part of the PGA’s bylaws from 1934-’61.
In an open letter penned by Wendell Haskins, a former Black PGA executive, he recounted his work there and the systemic racism that hindered and marginalized many of his contributions. Haskins also asserted Horton Smith was “a racist.
Estée Lauder Companies: The iconic beauty brand plans to significantly increase its spending on supplies from black-owned businesses over the next three years.
It’s also committed to increasing the number of Black employees by doubling the number of recruits from historically black colleges and universities in the next two years.
Facebook: The company has pledged $100 million dollars annually to Black causes and companies and to double the number of its black and Latinx employees by 2023, while also increasing the number of black people in leadership positions by 30 percent over the next five years.
NASCAR: The motorsports giant has banned Confederate flags from its events and properties. NASCAR had begun asking fans to stop taking Confederate battle flags to its races in 2015. But fans largely ignored the request.
New protocols have been put in place to properly enforce the rule, and former Director of Racing Operations for NASCAR, Brandon Thompson, was promoted to a newly appointed role of Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, a position that puts Thompson in charge of strategy for programs designed to enhance diversity within NASCAR.
Netflix: Moved 2 percent of its cash holdings, about $100 million, into Black-focused financial institutions with the idea that that money will therefore get lent out to African-American entrepreneurs and others who wouldn’t necessarily have access to that capital.
PayPal: The payment platform created a $500 million fund to support black and minority businesses by strengthening ties with community banks and credit unions serving underrepresented communities.
PepsiCo: Pepsi aims to add at least 100 black employees to its executive ranks by 2025 and more than 250 black employees to its managerial positions.
Target: The retailer, which has its headquarters in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, is donating 10,000 hours of consulting services for small businesses owned by black people in the Twin Cities to help with rebuilding efforts.
Viacom CBS: BET, which is owned by Viacom, has begun a $25 million social justice initiative.
Walmart: Walmart is investing $100 million to create a Center on Racial Equity to support philanthropic initiatives that address systemic racism in American society, including job training and criminal justice reform.
WarnerMedia: The company committed to providing on-air advertising for various civil rights advocacy organizations. The cable king is also giving $500,000 to its content innovation program, OneFifty, to support the development of issue-focused shows from underrepresented communities.
YouTube: The social media platform announced a $100M #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund, with new and returning projects by Black creators, dedicated to amplifying Black voices and elevating Black culture.
Over the next three years, the fund will be used to acquire and produce YouTube Originals programming and to directly support Black creators and artists across the globe.
Many of these initiatives were sparked by the impact of the George Floyd protests and those victims who preceded and followed him.
However, the momentum seems to be permanent.
In late October, Pinterest announced that at least 50% of individuals prominently featured on its site will be from underrepresented groups.
In the past month, J&J has pledged $100 million to battle health inequities during the COVID pandemic and beyond and step up hiring and advancement of Black employees internally.
CBS, the broadcaster of reality shows “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race” and “Big Brother,” will require 50% of casts of unscripted programs to be non-White next season. The network also vowed to allocate at least 25% of its unscripted development budgets to projects created by producers who are Black, indigenous or people of color.
Ben Franklin’s Bigger Than Bigotry
The power of the people has been heard, forcing drastic changes in corporate attitudes and company mission statements.
The George Floyd backlash also got the ball rolling on other issues of racial discrimination by major corporations.
In July, the three minority owners of The Washington Football Team (formerly known as the Washington Redskins) threatened to sell their 40 % stake in the franchise due to owner Dan Snyder’s reluctance to change the racist Washington Redskins name and logo.
Back in July, the owners retained Baltimore-based Moag & Co. to explore a sale of their stakes.
The word “Redskins” is a racial slur towards Native Americans. It was first utilized by the team’s first owner, George Preston Marshall, who changed the name from the Boston Braves in 1933. He moved the team to D.C., which was his hometown in 1937.
In 1988, former owner Jack Kent Cooke said about the name; “There is not a single, solitary jot, tittle, whit chance in the world. I like the name, and it’s not a derogatory name.”
Fast forward 32 years, and until recently, the energies of racial animus created at the founding of the Washington, DC football franchise were fighting tooth and nail for the illegitimate right to exist, the right to offend, and the right to objectify an entire group of people.
Adweek reported that a whooping 87 investors and shareholders, worth a combined $620 billion, sent a letter to three big dog sponsors–Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo— which forced the companies to publicly support a name of change for the team.
This was pivotal because every other effort to change the name was mostly a grassroots-based movement. However, with owners jumping ship and sponsors getting in on the act, Snyder’s days of stonewalling change and cosigning historic racism came to an abrupt end.
The Washington Football franchise is worth $3.4 billion, according to Forbes, placing the value of a 40% stake at about $1.36 billion, though limited partnerships usually come at a discount of anywhere between 10-25%. Rather than lose any profit, Synder has finally begun the search for a new name.
“My Daddy Changed The World”
When Floyd’s young daughter Gianna sat on the shoulders of family friend and former NBA player Stephen Jackson and said, “My Daddy changed the world,” it wasn’t hyperbole coming from the mouth of a confused and traumatized adolescent.
Her Daddy’s death was the tipping point that sparked a revolution of change in America and forced everyone to address the undeniable, longstanding issues of racism, social injustice and systemic oppression.
With this newfound national consciousness, the future of our country is actually brighter, and the power of the Black dollar and Black influence on the economy is as potent as ever.
JR Gamble is the General Manager of Content and Social Media at The Shadow League. He hosts the "Foul or Fair" segment on the podcast Inside the (Rob) Parker, part of The Herd Podcast Network. IG: @thegambler24