Jones: Kaepernick talk must turn from protests to issues

From left, the San Francisco 49ers' Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before their NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2016, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)
From left, the San Francisco 49ers' Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before their NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2016, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS)
Published Oct. 22, 2016

On Sept. 10, the Beaumont Bulls were getting ready for their youth football game in southeast Texas. Just as the national anthem was about to be played, the group of 11- and 12-year-olds took a knee, along with their coach. Just like 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the group hoped to bring attention to the racial divide in this country.

Within days, the Bulls' coach, Rah Rah Barber, was suspended.

"I was very transparent with players, parents and the organization when getting permission to do the protest," Barber told a Texas television station.

Soon, players refused to practice without their coach. And now the league has shut down their season.

On Oct. 1, 19 members of the East Carolina marching band took a knee during the national anthem. They were booed by the crowd, and a radio station in Fayetteville, N.C., refused to air the Pirates' next game, against USF.

These are just two of the protests — and the negative reaction they drew — that have happened since Kaepernick began his stance during the national anthem two months ago. It's a stance that is expected to continue Sunday before the Bucs' game in San Francisco.

"I'm very encouraged by the strength that people have shown in support and being willing to take a similar stand to the extent that a youth football team in Texas, the Beaumont Bulls, they took a knee, their coach got suspended and they continued to protest to the point where the league terminated their season on them," Kaepernick said. "So, to see strength out of 11- and 12-year-olds like that, that's encouraging to me because it shows the strength of our youth, it shows their consciousness of what's going on, and that's going to be the future moving forward."

What all has happened in the two months since Kaepernick began his stand, and where is this all headed?

Aside from the youth football team and the East Carolina band, Kaepernick has been joined by dozens of fellow athletes, including NFL players Arian Foster, Jeremy Lane and Martellus Bennett, and soccer player Megan Rapinoe, as well as various high school athletes across the country.

During the NBA preseason, many teams have had players lock arms during the anthem in a sign of unity. Other athletes have raised their fists, similar to what Tommie Smith and John Carlos did on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics after finishing first and third in the 200 meters. And countless athletes, including the Lightning's J.T. Brown, have voiced their support of Kaepernick and his cause.

No Bucs player has protested, but many support Kaepernick's right to protest and his message.

"If someone really felt strongly about that on our team and decided to take a stand, I'm pretty sure a lot of people would be with them," Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. "That's how I feel with Colin. A lot of people are really supporting him, just because he's somebody that shows strength, he's somebody that shows perseverance and he's doing this alone. So you have to respect that and you've got to just say hat's off to him, he's a great man."

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Despite what some, such as ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, might think, Kaepernick has not been a distraction to his team.

"If you're here on a daily basis, you know that it is not a distraction," 49ers coach Chip Kelly said.

Kaepernick spoke with his teammates, and even those who didn't necessarily agree with his form of protest supported his right to do so.

"You don't have to agree with him, but you do have to recognize his right to be able to express his feelings the way he wants to express his feelings," Kelly said. "That's what makes this country so great, the freedom that all of us have as individuals. And we really haven't had to address (it), nor have we addressed it since then because I think our players recognize and understand his right to do what he is doing, and it hasn't been a distraction at all."

It has been a distraction to the rest of the country. And you have to wonder if Kaepernick's protest is having much of an impact.

You would hope it would, that we as a country would recognize the work that needs to be done to improve race relations. Unfortunately, far too many refuse to admit that there is a problem and would rather criticize Kaepernick — not just how he is protesting and his right to protest, but the topic he is trying to inspire discussion about.

Sadly, far too many think Kaepernick's issue is a nonissue. Instead of trying to understand where Kaepernick is coming from and really listening to what he has to say, many would rather poke holes in his form of protest, refuse to listen and call him an ugly name.

Another criticism lobbed Kaepernick's way is that he's simply talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

"As far as being a part of the solution, that's something that is constantly being worked on, is constantly going to need to be worked on,'' Kaepernick said. "It's going to be a continual process, so the dialogue has opened that discussion and has gotten to the point where people are realizing what the issues are. There have been some small steps that I would say are progress, but we're nowhere near what the final goal needs to be."

Discussions are being had, but not enough. Too many, unfortunately, continue to be about the wrong things.

When Kaepernick spoke to the Tampa Bay area media this week, I wrote a column about him. The next day, I received a flood of angry emails. Some were directed at me. Some were at Kaepernick. Some were at both.

Few, however, were about the topic of race. And most that were insisted that Kaepernick was making too much of it.

Kaepernick started a conversation two months ago. The best we can hope for is that the conversation continues.

And starts being about the issue at hand.