San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is sitting down during the pregame playing of the National Anthem to protest the treatment of people of color in the United States. And lots of people have an opinion about it.
Some support Kaepernick completely. Others say that his message is okay, but his methods are not. And still others are burning his jerseys because, they believe, he's displaying an unforgivable lack of patriotism.
The opinion of John Carlos, however, carries a relatively unique amount of weight. When the bronze medalist in the 200 meters took the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, he bowed his head and raised one black-gloved fist as the National Anthem played. Today, the image of Carlos and Tommie Smith, the gold medalist in the event who struck the same pose, is iconic, appearing on posters and T-shirts.
But at the time, Carlos was reviled — banned from the Olympic Village, torn apart in the press, and the subject of death threats made to him and his family.
Carlos spoke to VICE News Tuesday.
VICE News: What do you think of Kaepernick's protest?
John Carlos: He made the right call. He's trying to bring attention to a problem, and for that, people said he's unpatriotic. Well, I thought that every soldier that represents the US, they would defend the right of freedom, freedom of speech. Now they want to take his right away? It's also in the same vein as what happened 48 years ago to me, in terms of the name calling and slandering.... He can't exclude himself because he's a football player. You have to admire his courage. I think we're coming to a time in our history where black people are starting to say that you have to make a choice. There's no more neutrality in equality, and justice, and a fair playing field.
So you don't put much stock in arguments that he's being unpatriotic, or disrespecting the flag.
He's saying, "I am not disrespecting the flag, I just want the flag to start respecting me." You can't close your eyes and think that just because you play football, you're safe. You could go out in the street, and if some situation happens, maybe it gets overheated, and somebody's dead. There has to be some grounds for people to come together and start talking. And that's what he's creating.
You're talking about police brutality, which Kaepernick said was one thing that he wants to draw attention to. The San Francisco Police Officers Association sent out a letter after that, asking for an apology from the NFL and the 49ers.
Let them cry. Let them whine. They don't run the NFL, they don't run the 49ers. They should run their business, with as many incidents as they're having. I got law enforcement in my family.... They're doing a great job trying to protect citizens, but that doesn't compensate for the fact that there are some broken things within law enforcement. How about we sit at the table, man, and as hard as it may be, start talking about this problem as opposed to talking at it.
Carlos (right) and Smith (center) at the 1968 Summer Olympics. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
A couple months ago, you said you were frustrated at "stars who have an opportunity to speak up but don't. They think they're secure in their little bubbles of fame and wealth." Are stars starting to speak up?
It's not just Colin. We got a lot of guys. John Legend has spoken up. Michael Jordan made a statement. It's in the air right now. But I do think they're coming out to assert themselves. When I stood on that podium 48 years ago, I didn't have $13 in my bank account to support me. Kaepernick, I think he probably has $13 million in his account. So economically, he's not going to take that beating. The mental stress will be there though. But he seems like he's a pretty intelligent young man, he's studied and surveyed in his mind the pros and cons, and is acting on his convictions.
Some people, like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, have said that they are fine with Kaepernick's message but don't like his method.
Well, the question to them is what have they done? What have you done publicly to even give credibility to whether you think something is the right time or the right method? A lot of these people want to be naysayers.... But you want to criticize someone who has made a difference. Maybe it's just way over your head, and you have to catch up.
In the same way that a lot of people who criticized what you were doing in 1968 now celebrate it.
Yes. So we don't even give any consideration to them.
Do you hope Kaepernick keeps up his protest through the regular season?
I don't have to hope anything. It's gonna be what it is. It's part of his life now. He's gonna have to deal with this shit every day. But remember, for these things, it takes a lot of time for it to shine and sparkle. All that pressure makes it hard to see. But eventually, it's gonna shine, like that diamond in the rough.
You've said that the aftermath of your 1968 protest was "hell" for you — it cost you your friends and your marriage. What would you tell Kaepernick now?
I would tell him this: You done jumped into the pool of social activism. This is not one moment that you jumped in. This is a movement you jumped in. And you're gonna see a storm before you see the heavens and the blue sky.... It's a vicious world out there.
Follow Dexter Thomas on Twitter: @dexdigi