An athlete addressing the race issue in the country is not new. But it’s still fascinating to see how the legendary Jackie Robinson, in his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made, described the moment when he realized that he could not “stand and sing the anthem,” nor “salute the flag. ”
Well, after reading that, if you’re have a “Hmmm” moment, it’s because what Robinson wrote mirrors almost exactly the recent statements made by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
In his book, Robinson pointed out the country’s ongoing racism, classism, and bigotry:
“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”
Robinson’s 1972 comments pretty much reflects what Kaepernick is saying in 2016:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
To paraphrase Yahoo Sports writer Mike Oz, it has to make you wonder just what would Muhammad Ali say if he were here? Well, we think we know, but truthfully we don’t know the absolute answer. However, we do what Jackie Robinson was thinking close to this death in 1972.