In New York City on Wednesday, hundreds participated in a rally against the National Football League’s (NFL) alleged blackballing of Colin Kaepernick as a result of his national anthem protest and social activism.
Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has also come to Kaepernick’s defense, calling it a “raw deal” that the 29-year-old remains unsigned after opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March and becoming a free agent.
Aaron, 83, is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He experienced intense racism in his early days in Major League Baseball, including spectators throwing rocks onto the field. In 1974, as a player for the Atlanta Braves, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record (714). Whites who did not want a Black man to claim such an important record threatened his life and sent him hate mail.
According to CNN, in the early 1970s, Aaron received 990,000 letters, “so many that the U.S. Post Office gave him a plaque for receiving more mail than any other American (not including politicians).” Some wrote letters to congratulated him, while others made death threats.
Aaron talked to TV One’s Roland Martin and called out NFL owners for not signing Kaepernick to a team.
“I think he’s getting a raw deal,” Aaron said. “I’ve been watching pro ball for a long time, and I think that if you look at all of the quarterbacks in the league right now … I don’t think anybody can do the things [Kaepernick] can do.
“I just wish somebody would open up and give him a chance to do his thing.”
He said Kaepernick’s talents are being ignored.
“The thing that bothers me about this whole situation is the fact that he has gone to all these camps, and nobody thinks he stands a chance to be number one. Here’s a man, a young player who almost carried a team to a championship.”
NFL manager says teams will use Kaepernick as cautionary tale to prevent players "from doing what he did."
Aaron also said the decision not to hire Kaepernick is most likely coming from team owners, and not general managers.
In March, at a rally in Louisville, Ky., President Donald Trump, a staunch critic of the football player, boasted about a report, “Colin Kaepernick Sentenced To NFL Limbo for the Crime of Speaking His Mind,” which said some NFL owners were worried about receiving backlash from Trump if they hire Kaepernick.
“There was an article today, it was reported, that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” he said.
“I said, ‘If I remember that one I’m gonna report it to the people of Kentucky — because they like it when people actually stand for the American flag,’” Trump said at the rally to promote the Republican Party’s answer to the Affordable Care Act.
Former President Barack Obama commented in September that Kaepernick was exercising his constitutional right by refusing to stand for the national anthem. But Obama added that the nature of the protest could make it hard for some to hear his message.
"If nothing else what he's done is he's generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about," the president said of NFL quarterback Kaepernick's decision to sit down during the national anthem.
In TV One’s interview, Martin asked Aaron his thoughts on Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality toward American Americans, adding, “It’s as if [the NFL] is saying, ‘We want you guys to just shut up and play ball,’” Martin said.
Aaron noted that times were much different for him growing up in Mobile, Ala., in the 1930s and 40s when being stopped by a police officer. There was no opportunity for a Black person to exercise his or her rights.
“To be honest with you, my mother told me when you get stopped by a cop, throw your hands down and that’s the end of it,” he said.
“But today, these kids are very smart now. They understand and know exactly what’s going on.”
Jackie Robinson, the first African American to integrate Major League Baseball, visited Aaron’s hometown in 1948. Robinson was his hero and inspired his career path. Aaron would eventually break barriers as Robinson did. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982, finishing with a career total of 755 home runs.
Kaepernick met with the Seattle Seahawks earlier in the summer, but the team decided to go in a different direction. In July, the Baltimore Ravens also opted against signing him.
President Donald Trump, who recently admonished the ex-49ers quarterback at a rally, has presented a federal budget that could lead to de-funding of the program for seniors.
In the meantime, Kaepernick’s foundation has donated another $100,000 to three organizations — raising the total donations to $800,000 of his pledged $1 million.