October 5th, 2016

I have railed of late about XBATs—my acronym for Xenophobic Bigoted Anonymous Trolls—and their cowardly attacks on athletes like Colin Kaepernick and Rodney Axson, along with an ever-growing list, for taking a knee in protest at the singing of a national anthem that celebrates a nation where black men and boys can be summarily executed in our streets.

My indifference to sports is infamous and I never heard of Etan Thomas until this morning, he has long been fighting this battle.

Etan Thomas, writing in What Kaepernick Started: A Former NBA Player Reflects for The Progressive tells us:

Today, I take my hat off to Colin Kaepernick for everything he is enduring, especially now in the age of social media. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry can develop what I call “Twitter courage” and type a hateful, evil condemnation of Colin Kaepernick. As Dave Zirin, sports writer and my co-host on the radio show The Collision: Where Sports And Politics Collide, has put it:Twitter is the white hood of the twenty-first century. It’s where bigots revel in their anonymity and rage against the current, where people can be both hateful and cowardly.

Thomas shares Zirin’s observation fairly far down in his piece which opens:

Seeing all of the venom spewed at NFL player Colin Kaepernick takes me back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Today, even Republicans admit that there were no weapons of mass destruction, no direct connection to 9/11, and no reason to invade Iraq. But back in 2003 it was thought to be anti-American, even treasonous, to speak out against the Iraq invasion. I was playing for the Washington Wizards in the nation’s capital and simply couldn’t keep quiet about what I saw as blatant disrespect to our troops—sending them to die because of deliberate lies perpetuated by then-President George W. Bush. I began reciting my poems at rallies and marches around Washington, D.C. Sometimes thirty or forty people came. At other times, hundreds or even thousands showed up. I delivered each poem with the same tenacity no matter the size of the crowd. Here is an excerpt from one of my poems, titled “Bring Our Heroes Home”:

Out of the ashes of Iraq come soldiers dressed in fatigues of fire
wearing helmets secured in smoke
They’ve choked off the lies spewed out of the mouth of a burning bush
The true warrior’s existing wake
Who’s flames burned them at the stake
Cremated their bodies
And stuffed them in an urn wrapped in red, white, and blue…

Rummaging through a forest set ablaze by one lethal match
With witty catch phrases forever attached to the side of their kingdom
Operation Iraqi Freedom Links to Al Qaeda Eminent Threats
And weapons of mass destruction…

They’ve been skillfully thrown into the lion’s den
Out of the frying pan and into the furnace
Their courage exceeds any measuring stick
But they can hear the footsteps of death creeping around the corner
For they’ve been led into the eye of the storm
Transformed into peacekeepers
Lending a helping hand for the poorly planned post-war strategy…

I attempted to get my message out to the papers, but nobody wanted to cover it. I tried The Washington Post and The Washington Times, since those papers covered our team. But I was met with a resounding no.

Then, at one particular anti-war rally, I performed a poem called “The Field Trip.” I named some ten Republicans I wanted to take on a field trip to see the results of their policies. My piece went viral before going viral was a thing. There was no social media or Twitter back then, but soon the story of the rally was everywhere.

All the criticism being leveled at Kaepernick takes me back to those days and the hate mail delivered to me at the then-MCI Center (now Verizon Center). I played with Michael Jordan and Gilbert Arenas, so I saw guys get stacks and stacks of fan mail delivered to them every day. I would get a few letters here and there, but after that rally I started getting boxes. Some of the letters were supportive, but a lot of them were filled with anger and hate.

Those letters, now replaced by emails, Snapchats and Tweets, are still filled with anger and hate from the XBATs, but brave athletes are not deterred.

What’s beautiful to see is how Colin Kaepernick’s message is spreading and how it is resonating with so many athletes, from high school football teams to Howard University cheerleaders. [snip]

What’s almost more impressive is how this message is resonating with high school athletes who, as we know, are greatly influenced by professional athletes. They are watching, learning, and taking stances of their own. Not because it’s a new fad as some sports commentators remarked, in a feeble attempt to discredit and demean this movement, but because they have their own experiences with injustice. Some have stood in the face of adversity, hatred, and threats of physical harm.

A Brunswick, Ohio, high school football player named Rodney Axson Jr. was threatened with lynching and called the N-word by his white teammates after he knelt to protest racism on Friday, September 2.

Garfield High School’s football team and coaching staff, along with more than a half-dozen West Seattle High School players, took a knee while the national anthem played before their Friday night game.

They were not intimidated by critics including Trent Dilfer, Dabo Swinney, Kid Rock, Tony La Russa or Kate Upton. Nor did they stand down when Mike Ditka, Jim Harbaugh, Vikings offensive lineman and Kaepernick’s former teammate Alex Boone, Jason Whitlock, Boomer Esiason, Victor Cruz, Tiki Barber, U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, and Shaquille O’Neal all used their platforms to discredit, condemn, and ridicule Colin Kaepernick and other athletes for having the moral courage to stand up for what they believe in. One would think they would be just as vocal in condemning social injustice and the countless murders at the hands of the police that have gone unpunished. More than two dozen black people were killed during encounters with police in just the first six weeks after Kaepernick began protesting.

Where is their condemnation of that?

Where indeed.

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