I’M THE MAN, I’M THE MAN, I’M THE MAN is often the affirmation I recite when I’m pushing through personal boundaries. It’s also the defining chorus lyrics from singer Aloe Blacc’s 2014 hit song, “The Man.” A personal anthem of mine that speaks of self-love, determination, and empowerment. It was also showcased in Beats by Dre’s “Hear What You Want campaign” and commercial in the same year featuring former San Francisco 49’er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. The ad places the now accidental activist in a setting where he’s approaching an opposing team’s stadium on game day. As the team bus pulls up to the curb and comes to a stop, the jeers and taunts of overzealous fans begin to get Colin’s attention.
The shouts of “Get out of here,” “you suck” are repeated incessantly. There is even one fan (actor) urinating on the tires of the bus, further showing the crowd’s disdain for the NFL star. Colin is resolute. He is almost statuesque in appearance and completely unbothered by the angry mob that awaits him. To the fans, he has invaded their space, and with their chants laced with venom, they are determined to unnerve Colin with their focus on his shortcomings. It doesn’t faze the player one bit, for it is they, the diehard fans of the opposing team that is disturbing his peace. Colin reaches for his Beats Headphones, and we now queue in the intro for “The MAN.”As Colin gets off the bus, he proceeds to walk into the stadium. The taunts and screams continue, but all you hear is, the lyrics of the song, “Well you can tell everybody, Yeah you can tell everybody, Go ahead and tell everybody, I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man, Yes I am, Yes I am, Yes I am.”
If we fast-forward to 2017, we now know that the embattled, free-agent superstar is still without a team as the 2017-2018 football season approaches. It is not for lack of talent, ambition, or desire, but rather something more arguably, and undetectably sinister. Colin Kaepernick is without a team for something we all should have seen foreshadowed in the 2014 Beat’s ad that quite frankly, went over all of our heads.
Still, lost? Well, let me help you out a bit with additional lyrics from “The Man” which read, “Somewhere I’ve heard that life is a test. I been through the worst, but I still give my best. God made my mold different from the rest. Then he broke that mold so I know I’m blessed (this is my world). Stand up now and face the sun, won’t hide my tail or turn and run; it’s time to do what must be done. Be A King when kingdom comes.” Colin appears to be silenced by the powers that be when he took a bold stand by kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest the many incidents of police brutality. He wanted to lend a voice the many unarmed victims of color who, unfortunately, are no longer here to face the sun.
It would be a travesty to ignore their contribution to my current freedom by not inviting them to the table of discussion for equality. Not just for gay men of color, but for everyone who finds himself or herself the recipient of insurmountable oppression and inequity.
A friend of mine a few months ago sent me a message on Facebook suggesting that I write about Colin and the trajectory of his career. He thought it would be a great idea to give my perspective as an openly gay black man who happens to be a huge football fan. I responded with saying, I did not think that the plight of Colin, nor the lack of interest within the league to sign him was a good fit for ruelon.com as it didn’t fit the narrative of what I was trying to accomplish with this platform.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had the opportunity to network with a few entrepreneurs recently in which I engaged in a conversation with another black gay man. He mentioned that he sometimes took issue with how we (gay black men) treated each other. He also said that when it came to a movement that created the acronym LGBTQ, it seemed to him, to be not inclusive of people who do not fall into that category, yet are still compassionate to the struggle and have become formidable allies in the process.
I began to think about my vision of love and support for same-gender-loving men of color and how I may have excluded many people, straight people who have stood in support of my journey. It would be a travesty to ignore their contribution to my current freedom by not inviting them to the table of discussion for equality. Not just for gay men of color, but for everyone who finds himself or herself the recipient of insurmountable oppression and inequity.
As a black man, a football fan, and lover of all people who boldly stand in truth, even if it’s not popular, I will always be empathetic to anyone who cripples the foundation of hypocrisy and ignorance and be blatantly unapologetic about it!
How does this all tie into Colin Kaepernick? It’s simple if you dig deep enough. This is not the first time that Colin has made headlines by being in support of those with little to no voice. Also in 2014, Colin mentioned that a gay teammate would be welcomed on the 49’ers roster explaining further that any player is there to win games. He goes on to add during the ESPN interview, “No one cares if you’re black, white, straight, gay, Christian, Jewish, whatever it may be.” This was all in response to a question asked by a reporter about his thoughts of then NFL draft prospect and openly gay, (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam. I gained a new level of respect and also admiration for a marquee player (although not waving a rainbow flag) who would openly say something that embraced Sam despite that many around the country (and within the NFL) felt differently.
Colin and I are both men of color. We, regardless of our different sexual orientation, more than likely had, and will continue to have what Oprah described in a 2013 interview with Larry King as a “racist moment.” With all the fame, notoriety, and big bank account Colin possesses, we are both faced with the reality that at any given time across America, we can be pulled over by law enforcement, comply, but yet be treated in the most despicable of ways based on the color of our skin. Who am I not to stand with Colin when he has openly done so for so many others like myself on one of the biggest stages in the world? How could I not write on my small platform about someone who may not share all of my struggles, but does with one of the biggest, most recognizable ones that I cannot hide? I do proudly stand in support of Colin. As a black man, a football fan, and lover of all people who boldly stand in truth even if it’s not popular. I will always be empathetic to anyone who cripples the foundation of hypocrisy and ignorance and be blatantly unapologetic about it!
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"What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?" – Frederick Douglass. In a quest to find my personal independence, I had to find out where my ancestors came from. I set out tracing my African ancestral roots, and it lead me to Ghana. Upon finding out this information, I wanted to visit the sites responsible for myself (and many other Black folks in the African Diaspora) for being forced into the hells of the middle passage. I wanted to see a fraction of what they saw before reaching the point of no return. I spent time with the/my Ghanaian people, from visiting the local hospital in Keta and the village of Atito, to eating banku in the homes of local friends, and paying my respects to Kwame Nkrumah's Memorial Park. I felt their love, and truly I hope that they felt mine in return.
This past July 4th, Colin went to Ghana to tap into the very soul of what some may argue is what is driving him to activism. On his Instagram post and video, we get a peek into what that visit was like, which inspired him to write, “I felt their love, and truly I hope that they felt mine in return.” He also details in the post about tracing his ancestral African roots and states that he wanted to see what they (African ancestors on their way to becoming enslaved) saw before reaching the point of no return.
In many ways, I feel as if I am witnessing something profound with the quarterback who also is at a point of no return. I’m not a pessimist by any means and do hope with all the football love in my blood that he steps on the field once again. I do know that there is no turning back for him now. He will always be remembered as being the NFL player who decided for him that something in our world and the judicial system wasn’t adding up. He then used his voice, celebrity, and considerable means to do something about it. He did what so many would not, and talked about what others could not. I can personally relate to that on so many levels.
We will soon see what the future holds for Colin, or at least for this upcoming season. Although we can’t know for sure what is on the immediate horizon, we are now living in full view of his focus and how expansive it has become. He has emerged as a symbol of pride and pro-blackness in every sense of the word. He has fully embodied part of the second verse of Aloe Blacc’s The Man, “I’m a soldier standing on my feet, no surrender and I won’t retreat, THIS IS MY WORLD.”
We can call the 2014 commercial for headphones, just another ad. We could also view it as insight into the person that Colin would eventually become, an individual who was determined to quiet the noise, focus on his purpose, speak the truth, all while exercising his right as an American to call out injustice. What was once a foreshadowing that went completely over our heads, is now a blatant acknowledgment by so many that Colin Kaepernick is Still, THE MAN.