Rodney Harrison Isn’t Helping

For the past few days Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the national anthem has been the epicenter of sports conversation. Every platform available has been used to express a litany of opinions ranging from support to sheer frustration and disgust. The Undefeated did an outstanding job of compiling an extensive list of responses to Kaepernick’s demonstration.

A quick summary: black people and John Harbaugh share varying degrees of approval and understanding for his actions; white people and Jerry Rice are mad and/or appalled at the “disrespect” shown by the 49ers’ soon-to-be backup quarterback.

I spent hours pondering what thoughts I wanted to offer on this continuing situation. So many intelligent minds have already weighed in on the matter, from Bomani Jones’ well-written piece, to NY Daily News writer Shaun King asserting that Kaepernick was absolutely right to sit during the anthem, to former NFL long snapper Nate Boyer’s thought-provoking open-letter in which he expresses initial discontent as well as a desire to understand the details of why Kaepernick believes his protest is necessary.

I wanted to address race car driver Tony Stewart calling Kaepernick an “idiot.”

Or maybe respond to John Isner, a men’s tennis player, who described Kaepernick’s stance as “pathetic.”

I also wanted to give feedback to the comments made by the “anonymous” NFL executives that called him a “traitor” and said he had “no respect for his country,” but TSFJ colleague Kyle Madson did a righteous job of illustrating the league’s hypocrisy and white supremacy.  

While searching for the right words to say, two things occurred that caused me to change course.

First, #VeteransForKaepernick started trending. My good friend, a military veteran, shared these words with me after I asked for his thoughts about the latest Kaepernick controversy. He stated, “The national anthem isn’t linked to the military at all, in any real way. [The backlash to Kaepernick] is a ‘Support our Troops’ excuse to silence another black voice.”

With this new wave of advocacy, I sought something new to add to the discourse, because it was clear that his message was resounding around the country.

Second, Rodney Harrison happened.

Hearing the ignorance he spewed on his radio interview and continued on his Twitter page illuminated my “ah ha” moment and guided my thoughts to a place where I could expand the conversation, and, for lack of a better term, vent my own frustration.

Harrison eloquently delivered these thoughts about Kaepernick: “I tell you this, I’m a black man. And Colin Kaepernick—he’s not black. He cannot understand what I face and what other young black men and black people face, or people of color face, on an every single [day] basis.”  

Somehow Harrison, a long-term NFL analyst, was never told that the 49ers’ quarterback was actually biracial, with half of the bi- being African-American. He later realized his mistake with a sad apology on Twitter stating “Last point I want people to know I never knew he was black.”

Moving past the “what is black, really?” debate that Harrison’s ineptitude could spark, the callousness of his statement asserting Kaepernick’s perceived lack of blackness somehow making his silent protest somehow fake or artificial saddens me. It completely disregards the entire point of the process, and it sends the incorrect message that white people are not needed in the movement to make the United States a more equitable and unprejudiced place for people of color.  

As Shalise Manza Young wrote in her Yahoo! Sports article, “Kaepernick’s protest is to bring attention to the injustices many people of color continue to have to deal with, from the well-publicized killings of black men at the hands of police to the denigration of Muslim-Americans and dozens of other instances, big and small. It will take Americans of all colors and backgrounds to fix these wrongs.”

Even if Harrison really did not know that Kaepernick was black (and honestly, c’mon man, the dude looks like he at least has a little something extra in him), none of that really matters. White America may never actually know what it means to live in the U.S. as a person of color, but if people are willing to stand and fight with their fellow citizens to end racism and injustice, offering the “you’re not (insert oppressed race here)” critique only serves to limit the potential for progress.  

Harrison continued his rant by insinuating that Kaepernick was being disingenuous with the timing of his protest stating, “[W]hat happened to all this Colin Kaepernick talk when he was making $300,000? You know, I guess it’s easier to sit there and say I know I’m guaranteed $11 million, I made eight figures last year, so I’m set financially for the rest of my life, now I can get up and talk and feel like I have the freedom to say whatever I want. But what happened to that … years ago when he was making little money?”

More nonsense. I’m not one to advocate for a black man to lose his job, but if Harrison just happens to get moved to the Tuesday, 3 AM time slot, I’ll be ok with that.

I’m not rich. I make a modest salary at my job, just enough to buy Chipotle for lunch and pray that I don’t contract the bird flu or Zika from their corn salsa. But if they paid me $11 million instead of a “wage commensurate with experience” they would hear a lot more from J-Mal. I might miss meetings if I felt disrespected. When my boss tells me that I have to work late for no overtime, I probably would just go home instead. If they accidentally put mayonnaise on my sandwich during the staff lunch training, I may be inclined to throw it and every other mayo-infected hoagie right in the trash. And if I saw my colleagues being mistreated or discriminated against, I would unequivocally make sure that the powers that be heard and felt my anger and frustration regarding the mistreatment.

What I’m saying is if the prospect of essentially being financially set for life removes the barriers of fear and allows you a level of “f*ck this bullsh*t” ability, then being broke or moderately salaried does not. For Harrison to question why it may have taken Kaepernick time to join the movement shows how out of touch he really is.

Everyone finds their wokeness at different stages of their life. And for Kaepernick, it could have been once he reached the $11 million stage, or maybe this summer’s murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the shooting of unarmed Charles Kinsey in Miami, and the murder of a mistaken man, Donnell Thompson in Los Angeles caused his passion, sadness and anger to boil over, ushering in a new stage of activism and action.  

Harrison was wrong on so many accounts that it’s disconcerting to think that he not only shares the same race with so many victims of racial and economic persecution in America, but he also has a major platform to inspire positive change and initiate dialogue. Instead, he used his platform to spew ignorance and wildly inaccurate assertions.  

“What I’m saying his heart is in the right place,” Harrison said, “but even what he’s doing, he still doesn’t understand the injustices that we face as a black man or people of color, that’s what I’m saying.”

You’re right about one thing Rodney. Someone doesn’t understand what’s going on out here in these streets. But it’s surely not Colin Kaepernick.  

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