As sports players join a growing movement of kneeling during the national anthem ahead of games to protest racial injustice, we get response from one of the advisers to the player who started it all, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Dr. Harry Edwards, a longtime staff consultant with the San Francisco 49ers, says he hopes Kaepernick “will become a person of the year” and should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Edwards is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” reissued this year for its 50th anniversary edition. He was the architect of the 1968 Olympic Project for Human Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. That was “[The World (Is Going Up in Flames)]” by the late great soul singer Charles Bradley, who died at the age of 68.
Yes, we are continuing to talk about the biggest display of athletic defiance in years, sports teams across the nation protesting President Donald Trump after he attacked the NFL, the NBA, some of their most popular athletes. I want to go to what happened on Saturday night. I mean, it’s going way beyond sports now, to entertainment, to politics. I want to go to Stevie Wonder. He was singing before tens of thousands of people in New York, in Central Park, when he took both knees at the Global Citizen Festival.
STEVIE WONDER: Tonight I’m taking a knee for America. But not just one knee. I’m taking both knees, both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world and our globe. Amen.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Stevie Wonder there on both knees, next to his son. One of the people in the audience who was rocking out to Stevie Wonder was the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. And I got a chance to ask him.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you think of Stevie Wonder taking the knee?
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Look, Stevie is like—no one doubts Stevie’s integrity and what he stands for in whatever he stands for, in what he believes. And we respect anyone who stands up for what they believe. Love Stevie always.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re talking about some of the biggest sports and entertainment protests that we have seen. Entertainers also around the country took the knee this weekend. But I want to go back to 2011, when we got a chance to speak to the 1968 Olympic medalist and international civil rights icon John Carlos, who talked about the shocked response of the audience in the Mexico City stadium when he raised his fist in the now iconic Black Power salute. I asked him what it was like after he returned to the United States from the Mexico City Olympics.
JOHN CARLOS: I think the main focus when I came back was to realize that I was in this storm, and the main focus within that storm was to do whatever is necessary to do to support your family. You know, I had individuals come to me with drugs in my house and tell me, “Man, it’s going to be rough. Go that way.” I looked at them. I said, “I appreciate it. Thanks, but no thanks. Y’all can move on with that.” I had to take jobs as security guards in night clubs and so forth.
AMY GOODMAN: He couldn’t get a job, Dr. Harry Edwards. You are often referred to as the architect of the 1968 protest with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who we just heard. Can you talk about the trajectory from ’68 to a man you now advise, Colin Kaepernick?
HARRY EDWARDS: Well, first of all, we have to understand that John Carlos and Tommie Smith couldn’t get a job before they went to the Olympics. So there’s—coming back, nobody is surprised. That’s traditional—that was traditional at the time. Once you went over and ran and represented the country, when you came back, you went back to the neighborhood, and you joined the rest of the people who were pushed to the level of second-class citizens.
Let me say one other thing. I don’t want to get off into too deep a discussion about whether Trump is deliberately looking to become a dictator or whether he’s a white supremacist or any of that. I think that we can all agree that even if he’s not a white supremacist, even if he doesn’t want to become a dictator, he most certainly will do until the real thing comes along. That’s what we have to deal with.
In terms of the trajectory of developments and issues from 1968 and the protest at Mexico City and to Colin Kaepernick, this is an ongoing struggle. 1968 was the third wave of athlete activism, which was framed up by the Black Power movement. This is the fourth wave of athlete activism, which has been framed up substantially by the Black Lives Matter movement and ideology. And the thing about these athletes is that they have been consistent. They have demonstrated. They have organized in a way that projected dignity, that projected nonviolence, that projected commitment and that projected, in many instances, programs. And so, while you have people in the streets of Ferguson, you have people in the streets of Baltimore, you have people in the streets of St. Louis as we speak, these athletes are saying that, look, we can come together in unity and have an impact and make a difference.
It’s not accidental that Colin Kaepernick moved from protest to programs in pursuit of progress, in terms of the issues that he’s concerned about. He’s one of the brightest, most articulate and committed people that I have ever come across. I knew Muhammad Ali. I most certainly worked with Carlos and Smith. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, some of these people from the 1960s, Arthur Ashe—I put him in that class. And I’m pushing him. I hope that he’ll become a person of the year—all of the athletes collectively—and I personally am pushing him for a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, even if he doesn’t get it, because I think he’s going to have that impact as we look back 20 years from now, 30 years from now. And I think it should be recognized.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Harry Edwards, is there any possibility that Colin Kaepernick, this athlete of the year, will not have played a single game this year?
HARRY EDWARDS: That might happen. I don’t think it would be in the interest of the game or of the NFL for that to happen. And now that the coaches, ownership in the NFL have come woke, as the Black Lives Matter people characterize it, I think that somebody is going to look around and look at some of the performances of their quarterbacks on the field and make up their mind that, hey, we’re about winning football games. The bottom line is, that’s what we do.
And if we can have people—bring people back who have served prison time for murdering mutts, if we can bring people back who have been associated with double murders, if we can bring people back who have associated with domestic violence, if we can draft people who hit a woman so hard that he could have killed her, then we most certainly can bring somebody back who took a knee and stated to America and the world that we are better than 147 black men, women and children being shot down in the streets of this country each year since 1968. We can bring that person back and at least give him a tryout and see if he can help us win some football games.
So, I would be surprised if every owner in the NFL is so blind and so cowered by Trump and whatever the fraternity of ownership might be avoiding, that they would not look around and say, “Hey, there’s a quarterback out there who can help us win some football games, and we’re going to go and get him.”