Sports Illustrated’s latest cover, which debuted Monday, is a tribute to the athletes, coaches and leaders of the sports world who took a stand this weekend against Donald Trump, attacks on our constitutional and civil rights, and the injustices suffered by blacks and other people of color in this country. The cover title, “A Nation Divided Sports United,” accompanies a picture of several of these sports figures, with one person noticeably missing—Colin Kaepernick.
SI may have its own readymade reasons for why it did not include Kaepernick on the cover—and with all the backlash the publication’s received, it’s likely we will hear those reasons—but it cannot go unnoticed that Kaepernick’s protests and movement have been hijacked by people with their own agenda. He is being made a footnote in the greater story that he created all by himself, and that is fucked up.
This is exactly how framing, narrative, status conferral and agenda-setting in media works. Kaepernick is being erased from the same story that is keeping him unemployed in the NFL at the same time the NFL is being praised for supposedly taking a stand. OK.
The narrative behind this weekend’s protests is being framed as a protest against statements made by Donald Trump. As players and coaches took a knee during the national anthem, they were lauded for fighting back against a president who would try to deny them their First Amendment right to protest or speak out for what they believe in. That same framing is then used by Donald Trump to say that the NFL, its players and coaches are un-American or unpatriotic if they do not stand for the national anthem.
The narrative is being whitewashed and rewritten. Instead of focusing on the original reasons for Kaepernick’s protest—the shooting of black men by police with impunity—the story is now about the NFL taking a stand against the big, bad president, and it’s a thing that
white most people can get behind without having to say they support black lives. Now they are supporting football players who had their jobs threatened by a crazy president who is off his rocker. It’s a much-easier pill for white liberals to swallow.
Status conferral comes to play when someone like Roger Goodell gets praise for supposedly taking a stand as the leader of the league that is still keeping Kaepernick out of a job for taking a similar stand. It is at once hypocritical and completely ludicrous. Someone like Jerry Jones gets praised for kneeling before the national anthem was even performed when just a month prior he told a local station that he believes everyone should stand for the flag and the national anthem. What kind of compromised photo opportunity stand was that?
It’s the kind of stand that allows one to set an agenda. Now that the narrative has shifted and the story is the NFL vs. Donald Trump, people are choosing sides, and the only thing more American than the president of the United States is a good game of pigskin. You pit Donald Trump against football, and football is going to win every time. He might be the president, but gotdammit, football was here first, and football is here to stay.
The NFL gets to come off looking like a target and a victim of our bully of a president. People get to choose football because it’s American and dammit, this is America. No one is worried about Kaepernick’s original protest, because that’s not what this is about anymore.
Now it’s about the right of football players to stand up against anyone who would try to deny them their right to stand for what they believe in, even if the person doing it is the president.
Now it’s not about race anymore, so everyone can get involved and choose the side that’s right.
And, in the meantime, police will continue to get away with shooting unarmed black men. Colin Kaepernick is still without a job. Our president is still a wack-ass nutjob.
The nation is divided, but sports are united.
That’s the kind of shit that sells magazines, and game tickets, and cable sports packages and your new favorite video game.
It’s the kind of shit that makes people forget that all of this started because Kaepernick wanted you to realize and understand that #BlackLivesMatter.