As the often-quoted Martin Luther King once said, “a riot is the language of the unheard”. This quote from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s has circulated back, with history repeating right in front of our eyes.
For hundreds upon hundreds of years, the black voice has been undermined. MLK himself was murdered for his advocacy. Muhammad Ali was forced to give up his heavyweight title and was put into jail for his pro-black beliefs, refusing to fight in a war for the same people that oppressed him. Both were either arrested or killed for their advocacy, despite being peaceful about it.
America’s reaction to Ali and MLK showcased the plight in which black people face in a country that claims to be united. A country that promises life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, yet has robbed many black people of their lives and their happiness. A country that claims freedom of speech, yet will go out of their way to silence the voices of the marginalized.
One would think that America would have learned their lesson from the 1960s, but their reaction to Colin Kaepernick & Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s protests would prove otherwise. Both of them, like Muhammad Ali, were athletes that ended up losing large chunks of their careers for telling the truth about America; a truth so painful that even when it’s said peacefully, it drives some to the point of anger. A truth that makes it hard for black people to trust authoritative figures in America.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was considered to be Steph Curry before Steph Curry was anything besides the son of Dell. His game was flashy, and his shot was nearly automatic from long range. During the 1995-96 season, Abdul-Rauf was playing like a man possessed, averaging 19.2 PPG and shooting at nearly 40% from the three-point line.
However in that same season, the NBA would suspend Abdul-Rauf for refusing to stand up for a flag in which he thought symbolized racism and oppression. After that season, Abdul-Rauf’s playing time would gradually decline. He found himself out of the league by 1998. Despite being in his athletic prime at 29 years old, NBA teams avoided him like the plague after his peaceful protests, and he was blackballed for it.
Fast forward 20 years later, and Colin Kaepernick would find himself in the exact same position that Abdul-Rauf found himself in; a talented player who was punished for using his first amendment rights to be an advocate for black people.
Although the San Francisco 49ers were having an awful year in 2016, going 2-14, it was not all on Colin Kaepernick. This was a team that was incapable of stopping anything on defense, yet you would think it was all Kaepernick’s fault the way they used him as a scapegoat.
He was actually playing decently through 12 games, completing 59.2 percent of his passes for 16 TDs and 4 INTs. However, the controversy stemming from the protests would lead the 49ers to benching Kaepernick for an even worse QB, never playing another down in the NFL. Teams feared that despite his peaceful protests, having him in the locker room would be a “distraction” and would affect ticket sales.
Circling this back to the initial quote in my first paragraph, the riots going on today are coming from people who are sick and tired. They are sick and tired of seeing people like Kaepernick and Abdul-Rauf being punished for speaking their mind. They are sick and tired of black people being treated like second-class citizens. They are sick and tired of seeing black people getting murdered without receiving their justice. They are sick and tired of being silenced. Every building being burnt down is a reflection of their anger and their pent up frustration. All they were asking, was for America to listen and treat them as if they mattered. Unfortunately they never listened, and our cities are being burnt down as we speak.