A recent Nike advertisement strategy has seemed to backfire, although these days who knows what sells and why. The ever more controversial, and beloved, former NFL star, Colin Kaepernick (hereafter CK), has once again become the center of media attention, public debate, and conservative ire. I need not rehearse his recent history of climbing the ladder of social justice fame (there is an odd thought!), since his kneeling during the National Anthem is well known. Therefore, rather than talk much about what he has done, I think I will instead ask a different question: what has CK left undone?
The Nike ad that has caused such commotion is simple in its message (albeit vague). It shows CK’s face and emblazoned over it are two simple phrases: “Believe Something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” I think the first statement can clearly and without hesitation be ascribed to CK, and that he can be commended for having a strong belief about a very serious issue (namely, the apparent mistreatment of black men by police officers in the US). It is good to see people have an opinion about something that, if true, is a clear case of moral injustice; one worthy of indignation, and action.
Racism, to include even attitudes or dispositions of racial discrimination or degradation, is truly sinful, since racism fails to take into account that all men and women are image-bearers of almighty God (Gen 1:27). Now, I’m not saying that people who have sinful thoughts or attitudes should be legally prosecuted in any way, but it would obviously be more moral, more loving, more good, if all our thoughts and attitudes about race changed for the better. How we should change thoughts and attitudes on race, however, is a topic for another day.
All that said, good for CK, for all that he’s done. He has clearly and forcefully “believed something” even if we might disagree with that belief (or, maybe not the belief, but the shaky evidence upon which it stands).
But, what about the second statement? Has CK really “sacrificed everything?” I think it is a stretch to suggest he has. After all, perhaps his NFL career was about to end for other reasons anyway (lack of ability, poor performance, etc.). But, since I don’t watch professional sports, I can’t make a good evaluation of that. Therefore, to be charitable, let’s assume CK was on the road to a Hall of Fame football career, maybe a few NFL championship rings, and this is what he has sacrificed for the sake of his social justice advocacy. Still, is that “everything?”
Well, it is something, but I think what many find problematic is that the sacrifice of a potentially successful sports career doesn’t really seem to amount to a sacrifice of “everything.” The fact that CK has not really suffered much, at least not apparently so, for the sake of the cause that he champions so vociferously, shows that perhaps he has left something undone. Perhaps, there is a course of action that he has failed to take that, if taken, might lead CK skeptics to a greater sense of respect and admiration for him, and his cause.
For example, rather than making sports commercials for Nike, appearing at high-profile speaking engagements, and otherwise living the lifestyle of a celebrity spokesman and model, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate, more sacrificial perhaps, to actually have joined the police force?
I mean, certainly he has the ability to pass all the required physical and mental tests to be a cadet. Nothing in the area of fitness is prohibiting him from actually getting down and dirty and assuming the role of a beat cop, a role that he seems to criticize rather publicly. So, theoretically, wouldn’t at least one, greater expression of sacrifice have been actually joining the very police force that he so desperately wants to see reformed? Actually doing the job that apparently others have done so poorly, and righting the terrible wrongs from inside the corrupt institution, rather than from a safe, and seemingly profitable, distance?
It seems that had CK chosen a different path in his post-NFL life, the path of the beat cop looking to help black men and families from the bottom-up, the cop hoping to make the small, necessary changes from within the system itself, and all that in relative anonymity…well that kind of path, I think, we all could have affirmed as something like a sacrifice of “everything.” Especially, when one considers the inherent dangers that come with the job. Perhaps, in another possible world “Kap” actually makes this kind of sacrifice, and in doing so, loses his own life fighting crime on the streets, perhaps saving someone else’s life in the process, maybe even a young, black man who goes on to be an NFL star himself. Now, wouldn’t that make for a story of true heroism, and one of real redemption?
But, perhaps I am being too hard on CK. After all, he is only human. Maybe in yet another possible world, one where I was a superstar athlete, with equal concern for the plight of African Americans in our country, I would have chosen the same route as CK. I would not have chosen to become a police officer myself, rather I would have become a popular, celebrity spokesman. In fact, let’s just say that that probably is the case. But, if most of us are unwilling to truly sacrifice everything, then how can we ever know that to do so is actually worth it? How could we know that, in the end, sacrifice is the means to rectitude, reconciliation, and to restitution?
Well, from a Christian perspective, we do have an example of someone who literally sacrificed everything. Not only that, but in his total sacrifice, he has given us everything.
The Apostle Paul puts it like this in his letter to the Philippian church:
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Here is the God-man, Christ Jesus; divinity itself emptied for the sake of getting down and dirty with humanity, dirty to the point of an actual, human birth, to the point of real emotional and mental pain and suffering, and ultimately to the point of physical and psychological torture and destruction; destruction through the worst means of execution conceived of by mankind at that time. Here is the only complete sacrifice.
I do not know what CK’s beliefs about God are. I couldn’t know that without him actually telling me. But, for the Christians out there, I exhort us all to take on the example of Christ Jesus, who, in truly sacrificing everything, won everything. Let’s remember that, for the true follower of Jesus, it is through sacrifice that true glory is given to us. Not the vainglory that the world has to offer, but the divine glory that comes through faith and obedience to the will of God.