Athletes vs. Injustice | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS


(dramatic theme music) – The National Football
League has kicked off its 100th season with a lot of
fanfare. Memories of great catches, wild
finishes, and a lifetime of entertainment
for many Americans. But the sport has a more recent
legacy and one the League may not
be as quick to talk about. Beginning with Colin Kaepernick, some NFL players chose to kneel
during the national anthem. They knelt in protest of police
shootings of African-Americans and they
were immediately criticized for suddenly bringing politics
into the sports arena. – But sports has always been a
reflection of where we are as a country. And Kaepernick’s take-a-knee
movement was a direct result of previous protests by black
athletes. He was not only inspired
by the two sprinters who raised their fists
at the Olympics in 1968, but he was even advised
by the very same person. (fanfare) – [Announcer] Track fans
gather for the 220-yard dash. – I was a singer at San Jose
State when Thomas Smith came in as a
freshman. He was the greatest sprinter
that I’ve ever seen. – [Announcer] Smith begins to
pour it on. He literally flies toward the
tape. – [Narrator] Harry Edwards
first met Tommie Smith as his classmate in the 1960s,
but a couple of years later, Edwards got a job at San Jose
State and became Smith’s teacher. – And in those courses, I talked
about, here’s where sport
intersects with education, here’s where it intersects with
religion, here’s where it intersects with
politics. – The athletes of the
1960s are much different than the generation that
preceded them. You saw things like the Lew
Alcindor becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You know, Muhammad Ali
refusing to go to Vietnam. – The real enemies of my
people are right here, not in Vietnam. (fanfare) – [Narrator] As the 1968
Summer Olympics approached, Edwards, Smith, and fellow
sprinter John Carlos became determined to bring
the plight of black America to the international arena. – [Announcer] The men’s
200-meters, another event dominated by
the black American sprinters. – Up until then, the prevailing
notion was that black concerns or civil
rights stops at the water’s edge. We don’t air our dirty
laundry before the world. Our churches were being bombed, our little girls being killed,
our leaders being shot down, while they had black athletes
going abroad as goodwill ambassadors to
sell the American system. – People forget that
those Olympics happened just a few months after Martin
Luther King had been assassinated. – [News Presenter] All over
America, black ghettos exploded in rage
and grief. – We want to send the message
that we are determined to fight this struggle. (gun fires) (crowd cheering) We may not be able to get to the
forum in the United Nations, but we can get to the Olympic
podium. (crowd cheering) (ominous music) – [News Presenter] It
was widely interpreted as a provocative black power
gesture. And in retaliation, Smith and
Carlos were thrown off the team and
told to get out two days later. – [Narrator] The image of Smith
and Carlos raising their fists
during the national anthem sparked immediately public
backlash. – [Harry] There was a tremendous
reaction. The death threats came rolling
in. I was fired from my teaching
position at San Jose State. – Do you think you represented all black athletes in doing
this? – I can say I represented black
America. – It wasn’t simply a
reflection of black militancy. It was pointing to the duality of being asked to perform on the world stage as
good, loyal Americans and a society that had blood on
its hands for the assassination of
the foremost articulator of African-American claims
to democracy and freedom. – You’ll never see me stand
up and tell this thing and ask that it be able to
represent me. – [Audience Member] Right on. – Nah, it doesn’t represent me. (audience applauding) – And so in a way, that’s
a kind of distillation of the position that
African-American athletes had been in from the very
beginning. – Jackie Robinson told me that he didn’t stand for
the national anthem anymore. He didn’t say the Pledge of
Allegiance. He understood that even
after the price that he paid in turning the other cheek, keeping quiet, which was
not in his character, very little progress had been
made. – I think they’ve gotta do
whatever they possibly can, but we cannot exclude any
means except violence. – He was the first one
to make it clear to me that progress is a very, very
tricky kind of a concept. At one level, it’s a lot like
profit. It comes down to who’s keeping
the books. – [Ad Narrator] Ever
need to rent a car fast? ♪ Nobody does it better ♪ ♪ Hertz leads the others by far
♪ (disco music) – [Narrator] By the late 1970s, the rise of celebrity culture and an influx of endorsement
money ushered in a new generation
of black athletes whose profitability and wide
appeal was contingent on avoiding
politics. – OJ Simpson, he stated
everybody can’t be Martin Luther King, and he was
not wrong. If Larry Bird doesn’t have to
stand up for every hick in French Lick,
Indiana or every poor white guy
or woman in Appalachia, why should OJ have to be
representative of every black person who’s
struggling under racism in this society? Are we really talking about
exchanging black orthodoxy for white supremacy? – Yo, Mike, what makes you the
best player in the universe? Money’s gotta be the shoes! Shoes, shoes, shoes, shoes. You sure it’s not the shoes? – I’m sure, Mars.
– What about the shoes? – Michael Jordan’s arrival as
the most identifiable American on the planet possibly,
it’s not coincidental he achieved that level of global
stardom as being among the least
political, least outspoken African-American
athletes in that tradition. – It became possible for somebody like
Charles Barkley to say… – I am not a role model. – That actually became
part of a commercial. Don’t expect me to do anything or be anything for your child. I’m just here to dine
sumptuously at a table where somebody else’s
sacrifices and struggles made it possible for me to do
so. – In 1990, when Harvey Gantt ran
against noted segregationist Jesse
Helms in North Carolina, Jordan refused to weigh in
and refused to endorse Gantt. ♪ If I could be like you, Mike ♪ ♪ Oh, be like Mike ♪ – The dictates of the
market were more important than the dictates of civil
rights, at least in his own personal
calculations. That really became the
mold for a generation of African-American athletes. – Game ball! (crowd cheering) – [Narrator] In 1985,
Harry Edwards got a call from Superbowl champion coach
Bill Walsh, who was also a San Jose State
alumnus. Walsh knew of Edward’s
history of social activism. And thinking outside the box, he felt Edwards could be a
valuable asset to his team. – He said, where I want
you more than anywhere else is in the locker room. We have a demographic transition
coming where you have a majority
blacks on the field. I want these athletes to
be aware and conscious of what’s going on not just
in football but beyond, so that we can be ahead of
things when they develop. – [Narrator] Over the last three
decades, Edwards has been a sounding
board for 49ers players grappling with the intersection
of sports and society, including a dynamic young
quarterback named Colin
Kaepernick who led the team to the 2013
Superbowl. – Colin Kaepernick asked
me for books to read. I said yeah, I can give
you some books to read. He was just another athlete
who would come to me and say, Doc, there’s something I
wanna talk to you about. – This country stands for
freedom, liberty, justice for
all, and it’s not happening for all
right now. – Colin Kaepernick says he
is ready for the backlash after refusing to stand
during the national anthem. – [News Presenter] Sports
and politics collided when Kaepernick refused to
stand for the national anthem, he says, to highlight black
oppression. – I think that what’s happened
now with the current generation
of athletes is that we’ve been inundated with video of people being killed by the
police under, at best,
questionable circumstances, and we’ve seen it again and
again and again and again. – Put your hand behind your
back! – I can’t breathe, I can’t
breathe. I can’t breathe, I can’t
breathe. – [News Presenter] We now know
that Tamir Rice was killed by one shot to the
left-side of his abdomen. – Hey bro, (beep), you
move, I swear to God! (gunshots) – There’s always been pressure, particularly from
African-American communities saying that people who had
a platform to speak out on behalf of those communities. – Between about 1974 and about
2008, there was no ideology framing of
the era. There was no movement. At the end of the day, it’s
inevitable that these waves will come
along. Why? Because it is embedded in the very cultural and historical
fiber of American society. – You cannot disrespect our
country, our flag, our anthem. You cannot do that. – There’s a political
calculation and there’s a political
profit to be reaped, whether it is the deliberate or unintentional
misinterpretation of this dissent to be
anti-American. – To say, get that son of a
bitch off the field right now. Out, he’s fired. (crowd cheering) He’s fired! – I hate you!
– American made! – American made! – [News Presenter] Furious
football fans are posting videos online,
burning all things Kaepernick. – Whenever we’ve seen figures
articulate a critique of the society, especially African-American
athletes, dissent is interpreted as
disloyalty. – So let’s be clear, that’s what
they are. They’re arrogant, young
millionaires. – There’s a presumption that
black people are not supposed up a tier
of society where they are and they should be grateful
that they’ve been allowed to exist on that tier. – [News Presenter] During
a meeting between players and owners last week, Bob McNair
said if the League didn’t stop the
protests, it would be like “inmates
running the prison.” – The audience do not reflect
the 80% blacks on the field. I mean, I’m watching a couple
of teams this past Sunday, it looked like Ghana playing
Nigeria. And it’s gonna get blacker
owing to the concussion issue because whites are dropping out. This is a growing contradiction. This is not gonna get better. It’s gonna become more strained. And this sophistry about,
well, it’s the national anthem, doesn’t help to move the
conversation forward. – The NFL has agreed to commit
$89 million over the next seven years
to social justice causes considered important to the
African-American community. – [News Presenter]
Kaepernick remains unsigned, leaving some to suggest
that he’s being blackballed for his controversial protest. – [Narrator] In October
2017, Kaepernick accused NFL team owners of colluding
to keep him out of the League, a case that was later settled. But in the midst of it,
sportswear giant Nike revealed he would be the face of a
new advertising campaign. – [News Presenter] The face of
controversy now part of a global campaign. – [Narrator] While some on
social media declared a boycott of the
company, others saw it as a sign
of progress since 1968, that a major corporation
viewed Kaepernick’s fight as not only acceptable, but
marketable. – For the people who take these
stands, they often entail some
significant degree of personal sacrifice. But I think it’s the thing that
people do out of a sense of a broader
humanity.

14 thoughts on “Athletes vs. Injustice | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS

  1. 8:40 PBS? Your proved too lottle too late. But that was the 90s. Lots of money Flying everywhere.

    What is apparently Hush Money. "Just don't talk about the Elephant in the room, and youll be fine"

  2. 9:57 And that's the Gotchya. That's probally why MJ kept silent all those years.

    Bevause he knew someone Like Newt would say that about Him.

  3. 10:40 Disctraction. Classic Republican Tactic.

    They want it to be about the Anthem, which used to have words about Slavery, mind y'all.

    So they can take the spotloght away from Colin.

    And they did.

  4. I love it how the people who speak out against the NFL protest for being "un-American," but at the very same time most of them also back a president who kicks the constitution to the curb every single day that he wakes up. The issue white (yah im white, and that doesn't matter) people had with the kneeling had zero to do with being "American" or "un-American." Most who form these dynamic opinions, that swing from one pendulum to the next, they think they control their world view, when in reality they do not. The juxtaposition of it is that those same people are also largely responsible for keeping alive that establishment that robs them of that ability. It is just a wonderful example of how opinions and world views are shaped and controlled in this country.

  5. In the mean time, 90% of inter-racial crime is committed by African Americans. Seems that the discrimination against these multi-millionaire elite athletes is a small slice of a much bigger problem pie.

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