Among those paying close attention to the rally outside NFL headquarters in support of Colin Kaepernick last Wednesday were presidents of NAACP branches across the country. I reached out to 20 NAACP offices in the U.S. located in NFL cities and spoke with six branch presidents on Friday for their thoughts on Kaepernick’s continued unemployment, and if and how they would mobilize in their own city.
In Baltimore, local organizations are planning a rally in support of Kaepernick in front of M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night before the Ravens (a team that showed interest in Kaepernick) take on the Bills. In Charlotte, the local NAACP leader says her group will protest a Panthers home game this fall.
Not all chapters will organize protests or boycott NFL games, but the common theme that emerged among the leaders I spoke to is strong support for Kaepernick’s public stance and the belief that the 29-year-old quarterback is being kept out of the league because of it.
Below are their responses, condensed for space and clarity.
Dr. Amos Brown, member of the national NAACP’s board of directors, president of the San Francisco branch and pastor at San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church
“My church was the first one to stand up and speak out against the treatment that he received. I feel that he’s receiving this treatment because it mirrors this ugly demon of racism that’s still in the fabric of this nation. And it reflects again how unfortunately this so-called Christian nation places profit above principle. … My teaching friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, said there comes a point in time in our life where you have to demonstrate noncooperation with evil. [Ed. note: King wrote in his autobiography, “I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”] And what’s been done to Mr. Kaepernick is evil. We will, in terms of my local chapter, and others across the country, invite people to not support this evil institution. The sports world has always been evil when it comes to how its treated black people. … This is another instance where blacks became the tool to support the economic interests of white men, same as they did during slavery.
“What they’re doing to Kaepernick is a political lynching. [Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam] in my home state of Mississippi, on Aug. 28, 1955, lynched Emmett Till, who was the same age I was. My hometown was Jackson, Miss. I sold “Jet” magazines. And when that August issue came and I saw that mutilated head on the cover, that shook me so that I ran to Medgar Evars and told him how disturbed I was at what those evil white men had done. And he told me to not get mad but be smart, and suggested that I would organize a youth council of the NAACP. I organized the first youth council of the NAACP at the age of 14 in Mississippi, and that’s when I began cutting my civil rights activism teeth, and I haven’t stopped since.”
Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore City NAACP
“We thought [the Ravens were going to sign Kaepernick] because [Joe] Flacco was going to be out injured. I’m the largest branch in the state of Maryland, and we do attend a lot of the games. We have had a good relationship with the team. They have invited us to bring children to their training camp, so it’s been a good friendship. We are in favor of him being signed for a couple of reasons. No. 1, he’s an excellent quarterback. I think he would bring good playing skills to the team, and they could use that. And the other thing is, management and ownership in the NFL have to realize that team players have personal lives and personal thoughts. And I am proud that he would take a stance on an issue that affects African-American men. When I see any player or entertainer, when they come on talk shows, I love it when they take a minute to talk about something that affects the world and people. I admire that type of person.
“I wouldn’t have a clue who [Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti] spoke to [when he said he would reach out to fans and gauged their support of the team signing Kaepernick]. Baltimore City NAACP has over 2,500 members, and we just hosted the national convention here three weeks ago. We had over 8,000 people here from across the United States. Most people were talking about it, and they were talking in casual conversation about the Ravens and thought he should be signed.
“Things happen when you’re an advocate, and when you feel that you take a stance you do this regardless of what your job is. His job is to play football, but in his real life he was saying, I have feelings about what’s going on in Baltimore and in the whole United states as it plays out with police brutality, with African-American men being violated, and Latinos and people of color. I don’t think he should be penalized and lose his whole career at such a young age and so much potential. He should be allowed to be somewhere, and I would hope that it would be the Ravens.”
Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville NAACP
“I think he’s being treated unfairly by the league, entirely, based on what he did last year with San Francisco. If Kaepernick is available, which he is, he should be considered by all 32 teams within the NFL. He took a stand, and all of us have the right to believe in what we believe in. He protested on the sidelines, and that should not be a reason for other teams not to consider him for future employment.
“I have not seen those reports [of Jaguars owner Shad Khan saying he’d be ‘absolutely’ be OK with Kaepernick on his team.] But if that’s the case then we support the Jaguars in at least making those statements. Kaepernick has proven that he can play in the NFL, and he should be playing in the NFL.”
Dr. Ann Hart, president of the Maricopa County (Phoenix) NAACP
“I agree with [Kaepernick] 100%. Everyone has their First Amendment rights, and by opposing a flag that he feels oppresses black people and people of color, he’s standing for all of us—the minorities and the social injustices throughout the country. It’s stellar and honorable that he’s done it, and to be able to stand alone when the world is against you, and now that he has the support of many other organizations, it should have brought more attention to the fact that there’s something wrong with this picture.
“You have someone that’s not [playing in the NFL], and you have more egregious acts that have happened in other organizations. Look at our current White House administration, where there have been blatant comments that are bigoted, racist, misogynist, denigrating, the whole nine yards, and it’s coming from our highest executive in the land. And this man [Kaepernick] is simply taking a knee.
“As an African-American woman, it’s humiliating to see that a black man who has earned his right to play in the NFL cannot now. It’s a sad commentary to our black kids, all kids of color, and kids who are not minorities. It doesn’t send a good message to women who look up to strong men. The job of a football player is a hard job. And we should not overlook the pain and rigor that they go through. But it hurts a black woman to see a black man nationally being torn apart like this. The worst thing you can do to a black man is terminate his opportunity to feed his family and take care of himself. It’s a dishonor to black women, to women in America, to see a black man be treated like this publicly.”
Gerald Hankerson, president of the Seattle King County NAACP
“First, it’s just another example of what happens to people of color, particularly those who stand up for black folks and black rights and the rights of our people. Some will call it blackballed. Well, I call it whiteballed. It sends a message to everyone around the country that when you oppose standing for the national anthem, it’s being considered unpatriotic. But our community considers it most patriotic when you use your platform to stand up against evil and injustice that exists all across the country. It’s unfortunate with the powers that be in the NFL and the owners around the country, it seems like they don’t want him to be a part of their team because of what he represents, which speaks volumes about their franchises’ ideology. We’re disturbed that he is still unemployed, and the problem I see is that some would say he’s not considered primarily because his skills have diminished. But you’re talking about someone just four years removed from a Super Bowl, so he’s shown his skills compared to other NFL quarterbacks around the league. But the very fact that he won’t get a second look now is troubling to us and clearly indicates that he’s being blackballed.
“Our complete involvement from the branch level is that I’ve been working with [Seahawks players] Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril one on one. I’ve attended some local games here on the invitation of Mike Bennett and Cliff Avril. As Mike has indicated, he’s utilizing his platform to educate folks. He’s been down here in the community with the NAACP. We’ve had rallies here Charleena Lyles, the African-American woman who was killed in front of her kids by police. Mike has been very active in our community talking about these issues. I really applaud his courage and commitment to stand firm in his beliefs despite what has happened to Colin Kaepernick.
“The NFL is a business entity that’s 70% African-American. When some players stand up by sitting down and suggest that we have a problem here, you would think that those owners would take a listen and use their influence to try to stop some of the injustice going on around the country. And the NFL needs to take notice of this. Right now it’s a pastime that’s bringing in billions of dollars, where people are buying tickets for $200 to 400, but in reality the people they expect to step on their field some day are the people being gunned down by police throughout the country in our communities. The NFL can find better ways to invest its time and energy to helping those young boys and women of color who’ll grown up in those underprivileged neighborhoods, to give them the opportunity to get out of it or just address some of these injustices that exist.”
Rev. Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP
“I am in support of Colin. In fact, I don’t stand for the flag either now, for the same reasons. I watch sports all year round with my family, and I’m into sports, but I will not be watching any NFL games and I will not be going to any Panthers games [as a fan].
“We’re talking about going to a Panthers game and taking some action. We’re working on what that action will be. Of course it won’t be anything criminal. It will be peaceful protest. But we do plan on going to a Panthers game and doing that. … I would love for [Kaepernick] to come to our chapter. We’re having an event Oct. 21. I’d love for him to be a keynote speaker so that he can invigorate and engage people who aren’t engaged. Charlotte is a very strange place. It’s one of the largest banking cities [in the U.S.], and we have a lot of well-off black folks who don’t get engaged in any real action around black issues. We had the Charlotte Uprising here last year [in response to the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, an African-American man] that made national news, and we heard over and over again, ‘Not in Charlotte, this is not our Charlotte.’ Yes it is. Because on the outside, Charlotte is beautiful. But the underbelly of Charlotte is ugly. The way black people are systematically being pushed out of their homes they’ve lived in for 30 years. All the things that are being done here in Charlotte now are the same tactics that were done during Jim Crow. Look at the public school system and how they’re re-segregating the system. Don’t tell me that’s not Charlotte. It is Charlotte. And racism is as real here as the day it was in Charlottesville.
“[Kaepernick doesn’t have a job] because he’s a black man who stood up for his rights. Because very similar to Muhammad Ali, he understands the systems and structures that have decimated and marginalized the black communities and continue to do so. …Without these black men doing the job they do, these [team owners] would not be wealthy. If I come to you and say to you that this hurts me, this harms me, the whole idea that we have to stand and pledge allegiance to a flag to a country that harms us, and never ever acknowledge that harm, that hurts. … I wish more black men would stand. I’m a woman of God. Men are the priests of our household. We need our men to be at the forefront of this fight and every fight. The reason that I do the work I do is because I have to stand up when no one else will. I thank [Kaepernick], and I thank God for him.”
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