By Kurt Johnson
Since news first broke of San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick protesting social injustice during the playing of the national anthem, many thoughts have occupied my mind. I’m still not sure how to respond, but there is something I have witnessed over the past couple of years covering high school sports here in Utah that I think relates.
Those who have fought so hard to preserve the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America did, in fact, provide the freedom that allows Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe and other athletes who have joined in the right to peacefully protest. I also believe, however, those freedoms also empower all of us to make a difference in other ways.
Where I would differ in opinion, somewhat, is in identifying the source of that darkness and in where we find the solution to the problem.
While he protests America and talks about police “departments” being corrupt, I believe this is a problem with the hearts and minds of individuals more than with institutions or large categories of people. There are far more good people in this country and in the world than bad.
I struggle to see much of a distinction between generalizing that all police officers are bad because of the acts of a small number of individual officers, or that “America” is bad because of the acts of relatively few Americans and generalizing that all people of any group, religion or race are bad because a few members of that group act badly.
Yes, there is darkness, there is evil in the hearts of far too many people in this world, but what is the solution? When Kaepernick is done protesting, then what? What’s next? I keep hearing athletes who have joined in this protest talk about doing it until IT is fixed, but none of them seem to be able to define what it will look like when IT is fixed.
It’s not like Colin Kaepernick discovered an injustice no one knew about and brought it to light with his protest. Rather, these athletes seem to be taking the approach that adding their celebrity to the voices of those who were already protesting these incidents will put added pressure on someone to fix IT.
It feels like we just keep adding to the number of people who are shouting at the rain, but I can’t help but wonder what we are doing about picking up an umbrella and actually making a difference. It seems to me that if there was some magic switch somewhere in Washington, D.C. that someone could flip to get rid of the darkness in the hearts and minds of individuals in our society, it would already be done. There are so many more people who are disturbed by these injustices than there are people who are not.
I wonder if there’s not something more productive that Kaepernick and Rapinoe and these other athletes could do with their energy on this topic than shouting at the rain and hoping someone else will pick up an umbrella. The real solution to this is one-on-one, individuals working within their communities to make a difference in the individual lives of those who have evil in their hearts, who struggle with darkness.
Principles of Especially for Athletes
Hence, the suggestion of my headline that Kaepernick meet Dustin Smith. In case you’ve not heard of Dustin Smith, he runs a program in the state of Utah that he calls Especially for Athletes.
E4A works mostly with high school student-athletes and encourages them to be better about the way they interact in competition and even more, to make a difference in their schools and communities. Dustin focuses on the concept that based upon the prominent place they hold in high schools, athletes have what he calls a “SportLight.”
The program drives home the idea that this SportLight puts high school athletes in a special position to make a difference during the time they are in high school, before they head off to college when most of them become just another student among thousands. E4A asks the students who participate to stand for something and make a difference particularly while they hold that prominent position among their peers.
One of the concepts on which Dustin focuses is the one participating athletes wear on a wristband they receive as they begin the program. It reminds them to keep their “Eyes Up” and to “Do The Work,” to notice the injustices around them and other students who are struggling and then do what they can to make a positive difference in the lives of those who need them.
The programs asks its participants to be aware of what is happening all around them. When they see another student who seems to need a friend, take the time to reach out and be a friend, make the effort to invite that struggling young man or young woman into their circle of friends.
For Kaepernick and Rapinoe and these other athletes, due to the talents with which they have been blessed combined with their hard work in cultivating them, that SportLight has extended far beyond high school. They have the status and the resources to make a difference in their communities right now, and it seems like that could be a more productive use of their energies.
Kaepernick has had his eyes up enough to see the injustice that he protests today, but I wonder if his influence might be more effectively used not just by protesting, but by getting out into the community and finding individuals who would benefit from the help he can provide. As he does so, perhaps his SportLight will draw others to follow him and collectively, to make a difference one individual at a time.
For the rest of us who either left our SportLight behind in high school or college, or who perhaps never really had one to begin with, there is another light we can use to make a difference.
Good people have a light within them that can generate a positive influence on those around us who might, for a time, stumble in darkness. We can start where we are, keep our eyes up and then go to work, reaching one heart and one mind at a time. I’m not sure that qualifies us for one of Dustin’s wristbands, but it will probably do more to fix IT than shouting at the rain while waiting for someone else to open the umbrella.