It’s been two days, and the buzz is still in the air from Monday morning’s bombshell from GQ magazine when they named Colin Kaepernick as their Citizen of the Year.
Merriam-Webster defines a citizen as, “one entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman.”
And no matter if you love him or hate him, Kaepernick is that. He has used the rights he’s entitled to as a freeman, even though they have led to him being blackballed by all of his previous and potential employers.
Forget Citizen of the Year, Colin Kaepernick is the American of the Year.
In contemporary culture, there are only a few names that are so polarizing that their names can instantly evoke emotion or cause a debate.
And now, Kaepernick.
If you want to understand how a person thinks, ask someone his opinion of those individuals, and you’ll be sure to get an answer.
In the last few years, we’ve seen Kaepernick evolve from a football player to a lightning rod that’s either beloved or despised. But if you pay attention, you can see that very same divide in how certain magazines view him.
In 2013, Kaepernick graced the cover of GQ for being what he was at the time, an up-and-coming quarterback that had washboard abs, a rocket arm, and an unfair 40-yard dash time for someone who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 230 pounds.
Since his decision to kneel, Kaepernick has also graced the cover of Time magazine. The Oct. 3, 2016 edition titled “The Perilous Fight” featured Kaepernick in his 49ers uniform taking a knee.
Time magazine would follow that up by naming him one of their 100 Most Influential People of 2017 under the “Icons” list.
The culture and news magazines just seem to “get it.”
“When we began discussing this GQ cover with Colin earlier this fall, he told us the reason he wanted to participate is that he wants to reclaim the narrative of his protest, which has been hijacked by a president eager to make this moment about himself,” wrote the editors of GQ when explaining their decision for honoring Kaepernick as one of their Men of the Year.
“But Colin also made it clear to us that he intended to remain silent. As his public identity has begun to shift from football star to embattled activist, he has grown wise to the power of his silence. It has helped his story go around the world. It has even provoked the ire and ill temper of Donald Trump. Why talk now, when your detractors will only twist your words and use them against you? Why speak now, when silence has done so much?”
So, my question is: If the editors at GQ and Time get it, then why hasn’t the editorial staff at Sports Illustrated figured it out yet?
Last year, Sports Illustrated chose LeBron James to receive its illustrious Sportsperson of the Year award, which is arguably the most prestigious and iconic award in sports outside of the Heisman Trophy.
In any other year, James should have been a lock. What James did as the leader of the Cleveland Cavaliers by coming home to deliver the city its first professional sports title in over 50 years was epic.
However, 2016 wasn’t any other year.
Hillary did too.
And in a year that included what may be remembered as the wildest and most historic presidential election in American history, Colin Kaepernick was able to wedge himself in between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the most important people of the year.
But yet, in the same year in which one of greatest athletes of all time died, who also sacrificed the peak of his career to use his rights to protest, the Sportsperson of the Year award went to James.
Muhammad Ali died in June.
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police in July.
Kaepernick kneeled in August.
Police killed Terence Crutcher in September.
James was honored in December.
The editors at Sports Illustrated must have lived under a rock last year. And unfortunately, it seems like their addresses haven’t changed.
The recent Oct. 2 cover of Sports Illustrated read “A nation divided — Sports united.”
The image featured James, Steph Curry and Roger Goodell locking arms in solidarity in front of a group of other athletic figures that included Michael Bennett, Candace Parker, Steve Kerr and Aaron Rogers.
But guess who couldn’t be found on the cover?
As a black man first, and a journalist second, it has been very interesting to see how this entire situation has played out in sports and culture. But, it’s also been very intriguing to see how my fellow colleagues, of all races, have handled and covered this in the media.
And from where I’m standing, Time and GQ see Kaepernick for the pioneer, trailblazer, citizen and patriot he is.
Sports Illustrated does not.
Hopefully, that will change.
The magazine has yet to announce its Sportsperson of the Year for 2017.
Its decision will speak volumes, especially if it decides to once again overlook the athlete who has changed the conversation without even saying a word.