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Debunking Dabo’s comments

For many individuals in the Clemson community, Coach Swinney’s remarks on Colin Kaepernick earlier this week were unifying, understanding and as one person on my Facebook timeline described them: progressive. The truth is, these comments, despite any good intentions, were anything but. Instead, they actively went against the ideals supported by the very man that Coach Swinney heralds as a hero throughout his conference. Yes, Coach Swinney, I agree that Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest leaders of our time, but I do not agree with your statements expressed this past week, and I do not think that he would agree with them either. In fact, I have proof. 

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he describes the greatest foe to the Civil Rights movement, and to the progression of the freedom of African American people as a whole. He doesn’t describe this foe as the Klansman, as one would assume, but rather as the white moderate “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and who states consistently that “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” Coach Swinney’s remarks this past week were not progressive or understanding, but instead reverted back to the roles played by white men and women in the days of Martin Luther King Jr. Through his comments and sentiments in this press conference, Coach Swinney essentially embodied the white moderate discussed by Dr. King. 

Coach Swinney stated during the press conference, “I don’t think it’s good to use the team as a platform. I totally disagree with that. Not his protest. But I just think there’s a right way to do things.” As someone heralding Dr. King as his hero, Coach Swinney seems to reflect the very white moderate that Dr. King stood against. What would be the “right way to do things” Coach Swinney? Do you really think that hosting a press conference to discuss such taboo subjects as race and oppression in this country wouldn’t have garnered any backlash?

Kaepernick is protesting in the same way that Dr. King advocated: nonviolently, while still bringing attention to the problem at hand. Coach Swinney’s remarks, rather than being ones of understanding, are actively working against the issues that Kaepernick is trying to stand up against, and blockading any progress that this protest could hope to make. These protests are not trying to make anyone comfortable, nor are they trying to avoid upsetting anyone’s delicate sensibilities. Instead they are attempting to garner attention and bring about actual change, which cannot occur by going about things in the perceived “right way.”  

As for Coach Swinney’s assertion that Kaepernick’s protest is in some way divisive and creating further division, I would point him to another Dr. King quote stating that those protesting “are not the creators of tension” but instead “merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.” The protests spurred on by Kaepernick, but picked up by players across the NFL, are not the creators or perpetrators of division in this country, instead they are attempting to heal the division already in existence. As you pointed out Coach Swinney, yes, there are black CEOs, but according to CNN there are only five black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Yes, there are black quarterbacks, but in the NFL, a league where 69 percent of all players are black, only 21 percent of all quarterbacks are black. Division already exists in this country, Coach Swinney, and Kaepernick is not feeding this division, but is instead seeking a solution. 

In response to Coach Swinney’s sentiment that we do not have a race problem in this country, but rather a sin problem, I would just like to express that sin is not an offense that we can fix in this country with some overarching solution. Instead, it is an offense that is tackled through individual prosecution of specific sins. With any other “sin” in this country it is addressed for what it is, individually, and prosecuted under it’s own name. If our country had an epidemic of stealing, which is a sin, we would work to find a solution to stealing, not to sin. If our country had a problem with homicide rates, we would work to find a solution to homicide rates, not to the sin of murder. So why, if our country has a race problem, can we not ask for a solution while calling it what it is? We may or may not have a “sin” problem in this country, but that does not mean that we do not also have a race problem. By changing the name of the problem at hand it takes away from the purpose of the protest and the movement, and brings us further away from finding a solution to this specific problem. When a white man can stand as a presidential candidate in front of crowds in this country spouting racist, sexist and otherwise offensive rhetoric, and say that America is not great only to be greeted with cheers and applause, and a black man cannot kneel on the field of a game saying that America still has problems without receiving death threats and insults, yes, Coach Swinney, we have a race problem. 

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