It was four years ago Wednesday that Colin Kaepernick began his public protest against police brutality.
He articulated that far too many times unarmed black civilians were being shot and murdered with very little accountability. Today, athletes all across America, including MLS players, took a stand because the situation still shows no signs of improving.
I am proud to see so many of my former teammates, friends, and colleagues unite to bring attention to the plight of Black people. Right now, in America and beyond, Black lives are not valued as they deserve to be. We have seen Black people shot while jogging, while sleeping, while sitting in their cars, while eating Skittles, and while crying that they can’t breathe — too many times — and very often there isn’t even an arrest or a trial. Something has to change, and that’s why Wednesday’s protest is so monumental.
Until America is ready to listen, and I mean really listen and be willing to protect the most vulnerable, disruptive protests will become the norm. Protests by their very nature are designed to make us uncomfortable, interrupt our normalcy and shock us into action. My only hope is that we will all keep the focus on the why and not the what or how.
Why did Kaepernick protest? To bring attention to unarmed Black people being murdered with very little accountability. Why did MLS players join the NBA, WNBA, and MLB in protesting Wednesday? To bring attention to unarmed Black people being murdered with very little accountability. That’s what we should be focusing on, not what they did or how they did it because otherwise this can turn into another circus like kneeling did four years ago. The method is supposed to be disruptive, but it’s also supposed to bring awareness to the cause. Unsurprisingly, there will be those who will choose to focus and critique the method, while avoiding the actual issue it was designed to highlight. We mustn’t allow that distraction to win the day.
I don’t have all the answers, no one does. But what I do know is that Black people have fought and bled for this nation only to return home and be denied basic rights like being allowed to drink from a water fountain. Black people have seen their leaders shot down in their prime because they dared to ask America to live up to its stated ideals. Black people have been owned, disenfranchised, murdered, raped, ignored, told they have a chip on their shoulders, told when and how to protest, and denied the same freedom the majority enjoy. At some point that becomes too much to endure and so protests like the ones we are seeing today are the natural result of deep-rooted dissatisfaction.
To everyone taking a stand in their own way, I applaud you and implore you to continue to fight the good fight. You are on the right side of history. Martin Luther King Jr. was not loved in his lifetime, Muhammad Ali was only celebrated for his protest decades after he made it, and Kaepernick lost his career before he was vindicated. In due time, history will vindicate those who stood with the oppressed.
To MLS, I applaud you for standing with your players and now I can only hope that this protest leads to real and lasting systemic change. Enough is enough means we have to be willing to disrupt and uproot our entire lives until everyone is truly equal. It will not be comfortable, but it’s our duty as fellow human beings to be there for the most vulnerable.
Four years ago Colin Kaepernick began his peaceful, nonviolent protest against police brutality and the lack of accountability over lost Black lives. I wonder where America would be today had we listened to his why and not focused on the what and how. I can only hope we are wise enough not to repeat that mistake after Wednesday’s unified athlete protest.
Former MLS star winger Steve Zakuani was a No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and played for the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. He is currently a member of the Sounders broadcast team and has published a book “Rise Above” and a documentary “Unbreakable” surrounding his comeback from a serious injury which marked his playing days. He is also a coach at Bellevue High School and makes a difference in the lives of young athletes through his non-profit Kingdom Hope organization.