White America, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Black people don’t really rock with Pat Tillman like that.
The pedestal that you all love to put him on doesn’t exist to us. And what you have to realize is that this is less about his service and sacrifice, and more about how you all laud him for something that Black people have never received praised for, which is sacrifice.
Enter Brett Favre.
“I can only think of — right off the top of my head — Pat Tillman’s another guy who did something similar, and we regard him as a hero,” Favre told TMZ Sports. “So, I’d assume that hero status will be stamped with Kaepernick as well.”
Tillman, a white former safety for the Arizona Cardinals, gave up his football career and enlisted in the U.S. Army after 9/11. He was killed in 2004 by friendly fire in Afghanistan. He was the 226th pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and accumulated 344 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions in four seasons.
Every significant award that Tillman has ever received, or that has been named after him, came after his untimely death. White people treat him like football Jesus.
Kaepernick, a Black former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, is still being blackballed by the NFL due to sitting, and then kneeling, during the national anthem in peaceful protest because he wanted the police to stop killing Black people with impunity. The 32-year-old was the 36th overall pick of the 2011 draft and spent six seasons in the NFL in which he led a team to the Super Bowl, became one of the faces of the league, and accumulated over 14,500 yards of offense and accounted for 85 touchdowns (72 passing, 13 rushing).
All the high regard from white America that Favre spoke of that Kaepernick is finally receiving, is due to “white guilt,” as the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks have made them finally start listening to what Black people have been saying for hundreds of years. Black America has always viewed Kaepernick as a football savior, even when everyone else thought of him as an ungrateful Judas.
One man saw something and decided to do something about it. So, he voluntarily gave up his career. The other also saw something and decided to do something about it. But, he had his career taken from him. Tillman knew what he was signing up for. Kaepernick never saw it coming.
See the difference?
The use of “white sacrifice” or “white achievement” as the only barometer of success and triumph is the prejudiced and lazy mentality that Favre, and so many in white America, love to use when it comes to accessing the merits of Black people, and we see it all the time in sports.
In baseball, it’s done with Babe Ruth, when Josh Gibson was the real home run king of that era.
In basketball, Larry Bird is the barometer in Boston, but Bill Russell is the one with 11 rings.
And in football, Tillman is viewed as the player who gave the ultimate sacrifice, while Kaepernick’s protest will go down in history as the moment that true change began to take place.
The same thinking we see in Favre is the same we saw in Drew Brees when he said that kneeling was disrespectful to the flag because, “I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.”
It’s as if all the Black men and women that fought for a country that’s never cared about them never existed.
And while I understand that Tillman has a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, I can’t help but think about my father who served in the Korean War. Or how my uncle also has a Purple Heart from Vietnam. Those are my heroes, not Tillman.
When it comes to sports, people love to make comparisons. It’s why Kaepernick’s name is so often mentioned with Muhammad Ali’s. But, what most fail to mention is that after Ali had his title stripped and was all but blackballed from boxing, he got a chance to come back and become the heavyweight champion of the world again.
Kaepernick is still being denied the opportunity for such a storybook ending to his career.
Because in America…
Giving up your football career to fight for your country is the ultimate honor.
Standing up for your religious beliefs can later be viewed as noble.
But asking police officers to stop killing Black people, and getting away with it, is still something that will keep you unemployed.
And if that doesn’t instantly make you a hero, then nothing ever will.