Sports Illustrated revealed its latest print cover on Tuesday, a powerful black and white image featuring pro athletes and coaches who had either protested during the national anthem by taking a knee or expressed support for those who did. “A nation divided, sports united,” the magazine declares.
But one person was conspicuously missing: former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the first athlete to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against the black community back in 2016. Eric Reid, the 49ers strong safety who knelt alongside Kaepernick for the first time on September 1, 2016, and who wrote a stirring op-ed for the New York Times on Monday explaining their decision, was also nowhere to be found.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 26, 2017
Linking arms in the cover image were Jaguars owner Shad Khan, NBA stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, MLB catcher Bruce Maxwell, NBA coach Steve Kerr, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and NFL players Aaron Rodgers, Michael Bennett, and Cameron Jordan.
Only one WNBA player, Olympic gold medalist Candace Parker, was included in the image, despite the fact that, as Charles P. Pierce wrote in the accompanying editorial, “The WNBA’s players have been out front on the issue longer than most athletes.”
Pierce’s editorial inside the issue, ironically, explained the problem with the cover. Many of the NFL owners and commissioner Goodell largely sought to reframe the issue as free speech, he wrote, steering clear of the intended purpose — a protest against racism and violence directed at African-Americans.
“…Over the weekend, we had so many owners framing the issue as a matter of standing behind their employees’ free-speech rights. The NFL power structure chose a relatively anodyne approach to the whole matter,” Pierce wrote. “It enabled the league to stay away from the issue that prompted the protests in the first place, the issue that very likely has kept Kaepernick from getting a job. Those same owners, along with commissioner Roger Goodell, don’t want any part of the issue of why African-Americans end up dead on the pavement after traffic stops and other encounters with police officers.”
Or, as one Twitter user adeptly put it, “[Kaepernick] put his career on the line to protest police brutality & injustice. But ya’ll made a mag cover w/o him. Yuck.”
Goodell did release his own statement on the matter Saturday, in response to comments by President Trump in which the latter claimed anyone protesting during the national anthem was a “son of a bitch.” But his message focused on NFL players’ responses to natural disasters, rather than their protests on the field.
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month,” he wrote. “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
On Sunday evening, he followed up his initial statement in a comment to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, saying that, “The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud.”
In his op-ed on Sunday, Reid instead spoke out about Kaepernick, who has still not been signed to an NFL team, despite career stats that suggest he belongs. “Anybody who has a basic knowledge of football knows that his unemployment has nothing to do with his performance on the field,” Reid wrote. “It’s a shame that the league has turned its back on a man who has done only good.”
I can’t find words that appropriately express how heartbroken I am to see the constant smears against Colin, a person who helped start the movement with only the very best of intentions. We are talking about a man who helped to orchestrate a commercial planeful of food and supplies for famine-stricken Somalia. A man who has invested his time and money into needy communities here at home. A man I am proud to call my brother, who should be celebrated for his courage to seek change on important issues. Instead, to this day, he is unemployed and portrayed as a radical un-American who wants to divide our country.
Sports Illustrated spokespersons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.