In my career covering the NFL, I cannot recall a more polarizing figure than Colin Kaepernick. There have certainly been others whose words and actions have enraged and created debate, but Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem at NFL games touched a nerve made more raw by the political tenor of the Nation.
Speaking from the Constitutional right of the individual to express themselves without breaking the law, I commented on his actions on this site and made note of the charitable works he immersed himself in while fighting for a return to pro football. My conclusion remains a simple one. Kaepernick doesn’t give a damn what you think about him and his opinions. And despite having once been paid and played at the pinnacle of his chosen profession, he doesn’t care one iota whether he’s noted for throwing more political bombs than throwing those bombs that can result in six points.
All of which has become glaringly obvious with his latest comments and actions, ones that in my opinion will ensure he never plays another down of professional football. One that again forces us to look at how every individual crafts and maintains their personal image, and the permanent repercussions that adhere to us all, personally and professionally, as we make out own decisions on what we want to be know for. How we want to be viewed. And the effect our words and actions have on us for the rest of our lives.
THE PHILANDO CASTILE SHOOTING STRIKES A NERVE
It begins with a controversial verdict in the case of a Minnesota police officer charged with killing Philando Castile, a shooting that was captured on “Facebook Live”, one that has a large part of that community and the Nation again asking questions and seeking answers as to the interaction between police officers and African-Americans.
Kaepernick was one of many that reacted to the verdict via social media. And his tweet reignited the conflagration surrounding him and his image.
Kaepernick’s statement equating all police officers with “slave patrols” and, in essence, commenting that in his opinion all cops are racist, certainly got the intended reaction.
As I teach and recommend to every person during “The Undefeated Image” presentation and workshops, and for every session held with corporate employees and management in “The Playbook” training, I urge everyone to take a step back, take a breath, remove the incessant “knee jerk” reaction and whittle this down to something we must all learn from.
FIVE FINGERS OF REALITY: COLIN KAEPERNICK’S CONSEQUENCES
- KAEPERNICK HAS EVERY RIGHT TO WRITE WHAT HE DID. As with his other decisions, it’s a Constitutionally protected right. Whether you agree with it or not, that’s not the point in a legal sense. This is the image he want to present, the one he believes is who he truly is, and in that stead, he makes his own call and, as I’ve always taught, will live with the consequences.
- WE ARE NOT STANDING IN HIS SHOES AND THUS CANNOT STATE WHAT IS RIGHT AND WHAT IS WRONG. We must have our own opinions. It’s what makes us who we are at the core. It’s what creates the image we often deserve more than the one we want. and in crafting that image, we have to accept there are people we interact with that will hold controversial and perhaps even what we might consider dangerous opinions. But when an opinion is made without a threat of violence and within what we can consider the moral boundaries of society, we have to respect it. We are never forced to agree with it, but we must respect it. This is part of our integrity and our accountability.
- WHEN STATING YOUR OPINION, REMEMBER IT BELONGS TO YOU AND YOU ALONE. In most cases, you don’t speak for everyone. Certainly there are leaders who drive others to certain heights, sad to note sometimes it’s a very, very low bar, but at the beginning of leadership it comes from an idea YOU passionately believe in. And you must realize not everyone will blindly follow. In this case, sports commentator Jason Whitlock took Kaepernick to task for the tweet because, as he noted, “Black people call and need the police. We never called/needed a slave catcher”.
4. THINK SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE USING SOCIAL MEDIA. Here comes that time worn lesson again. Kaepernick reacted to the story while obviously emotional. The smarter individual would have put down the computer keyboard, walked away, and given what they were about to write more thought. If you want to be incendiary, go right ahead. It’s your life and your image. But this tweet will never go away. He will from this point forward be remembered as the guy who said all cops were nothing more than slave catchers. He made a generalization and, in the process, besmirched the reputation of tens of thousands of hard working men and women that every day face the prospect of never coming home at the end of their shift. He brings upon himself a level of scorn from those in law enforcement of every color, and they now understand what lies at his core. This is the “unfixable” image, one from which there will never be a comeback.
5. UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THE DAMAGE YOU HAVE DONE TO YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER WITH YOUR PERSONAL STATEMENTS. If you work for someone, then your image becomes theirs and the counter is true as well. When you become an employee at any level of any business, you represent their image, their brand, and their level of customer service. You therefore must come to the conclusion that you must be more careful in how you conduct yourself even when not on the job. What you do will reflect the image of the business owner making an investment in you. So when you “cross that line”, a subject I recently wrote about because we need to know where that “line” is at all times and whom is creating it, you accept the responsibility for what happens to you. Conversely, if you work for someone and you are uncomfortable with how they conduct their business and believe you are being asked to change your core values merely to get paid, then you have to make a choice. Do you want to continue working for them at the risk of damaging your own image, or are you willing to become someone other than who you want to be just to keep your job? The latter is always the more difficult. In this case, Kaepernick went for the jugular instead of seeking to be a peacemaker. His call. He will pay the price.
POST-GAME: THE LEADERSHIP TAKEAWAY
Quite often I have conversations with friends and colleagues who are of a different ethnicity than mine. They all say the same thing in one form or another. That as a white man, I can never understand what their life has been like. I can educate myself, make educated statements and conclusions, but in the end I can never truly understand what they have been forced to endure over a lifetime because of the color of their skin, their religion, their ethnic background. They are correct. But they also tell me how they need to seek an understanding of what my life has been like, how I was raised, and what I have been left with at this stage of my life. It is indeed a two-way street, and it speaks to our desire for leadership, integrity, and accountability.
I don’t agree with what Kaepernick wrote. Personally, I’m disgusted and insulted by it. I support the men and woman of law enforcement in this country and appreciate their service. However, at the same time, I am not naive. I know from personal experience there are good apples and bad apples in every bunch, and we must continue to support the people who do the job for the right reasons, while uncovering and removing those that wear the badge for all the wrong reasons.
At the same time, and as I have stated before, I recognize his right to make such statements. But in this arena, we talk about matters such as leadership, integrity, image and accountability.
Leaders do not generalize. They do not lump everyone into the same basket simple because of religion, race, social status, appearance or comments. Leaders are able to pick through the bunch, find the individuals that have the inner desire to be part of something positive, while at the same time reaching out to those who need assistance. Leaders are those that seek to turn what is wrong into what can be right.
With his latest action, Colin Kaepernick stepped over a line from which there is no return. His is now and forever the image of someone seeking to do more harm than good, to generalize when pointed and reasoned discussion is needed. He may have been able to explain away the time when he wore socks depicting cops as pigs, but his textual actions now will only lead many to believe he was lying when it came to his actual state of mind and opinion.
Kaepernick may indeed still do some very positive things for those in need. Has has shown a propensity for charitable works, and for that he should be commended. However, he won’t play another down in the NFL after this. Were I an owner of a franchise, I would treat him as radioactive, and not for one second want someone so cavalier about those who protect us every day representing my brand. Frankly, he may not care in the least. That is his decision, one that we must respect.
But our integrity, leadership and sense of accountability never forces us to make someone else’s opinion our own.