King Kunta

Kaepernick asserts freedom with defiance, dexterity

“Clothes make the man.” 

It’s a shallow saying that suggests that what a person wears is more important than who the person is.

Colin Kaepernick is a professional quarterback — and so much more. He didn’t need to prove the former, yet did so in Atlanta on Saturday to prove that his NFL exile is less about talent and more about principles, specifically his stance on social injustice.

Who Kaepernick is got a supplemental boost from two words on a shirt that he wore during Saturday’s workout: 

Kunta Kinte.

Kunta Kinte, like Kap, is a figure made up of both fact and fiction. While Kinte is a fictional character in the 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, he is based on one of the ancestors of Roots author Alex Haley. Both figures have entered the realm of mythology, largely because of how they’ve been written.

As a fan of hip-hop, I imagined Kap throwing deft darts through haters’ hearts backed by a Kendrick Lamar soundtrack, specifically a single off of his “To Pimp A Butterfly” project entitled “King Kunta”:

I got a bone to pick
I don’t want you monkey-mouth MFs sittin’ in my throne again
Ayy, ayy, n—a, what’s happenin’? K-dot back in the hood, n—a!
I’m mad (he mad!), But I ain’t stressin’
True friends
One question

One question seemed to be on the mind of Kap’s supporters and critics alike: why submit yourself to the tryout process in the first place?

Those are the questions that come from mythology — where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. A question along the same lines asks why and what Kap took a knee for. It wasn’t an anti-American stance, it was a stance regarding police brutality and the treatment of veterans.

As for football, Kaepernick has always expressed that he loved the game. It’s just that over the last three years, he has not compromised his principles to do so.

It has been the NFL who has rebuked those principles. First, it colluded to keep him out of the league. Then, there was the half-hearted tryout offer, with its petty refusal to allow certain permissions and a controversial waiver to potentially handcuff Kap.

No, Kap’s got his freedom papers now. It doesn’t matter if he never plays another NFL down — which, despite his comrade Eric Reid’s return to the pro gridiron, never seemed like a possibility for the face of a movement.

B—, where you when I was walkin’?
Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’
King Kunta, everybody wanna cut the legs off him
Kunta, black man taking no losses, oh yeah
B—, where you when I was walkin’?
Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’
King Kunta, everybody wanna cut the legs off him
When you got the yams (what’s the yams?)

The allusion of yams draws from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man — the book’s protagonist declares, “I yam who I am.” It is a statement of authenticity and purpose.

Kaepernick has endured most of his journey alone. He was let down by not only a significant number of NFL players, but the NFL Players’ Association itself. He was let down by fans who might have agreed with him in principle, but not enough to take a hiatus from the NFL. 

Yet when the NFL and detractors tried to take Kaepernick’s feet away — cut the legs off him — he found his footing. It’s beautifully ironic, really. The stereotype against Black quarterbacks is that they are “runners,” lacking intellect and leadership.

This year, above many others, proves that stereotype to be wrong. Lamar Jackson, who some suggested move to receiver instead of playing quarterback, is among the league’s best. The short list of standout signal callers includes Black faces such as Russell Wilson’s and Patrick Mahomes’.

There is one exiled name who rises above them all — not for what he’s doing on the field, but for what he continues to stands for off of it. Wearing a T-shirt to supplement that, in the moment of truth, is a sweet coup de grace.

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