Over the holiday weekend, two prominent athletes debuted new shows on popular streaming services. On Apple TV+, Brooklyn Nets Forward Kevin Durant and Thirty Five Ventures debuted Swagger starring O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Tristan "Mack" Wilds. Meanwhile, former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick unveiled his limited series, Colin in Black and White, on Netflix. Thus far, both series have received incredible reviews from critics.
“Swagger is direct and clear when it comes to what it wants to communicate about the pressures facing its ensemble. It’s also fairly blunt about what will get them through: Unity and the sublimation of star talent to a greater endeavor. It’s a message we’ve heard before, but this show’s clarity of purpose suggest it’ll reach, and be a balm for, an audience of young sports fans seeking to know what, beyond talent, makes a Durant," Variety's Daniel D'Addario said about Durant's work.
"The six-part collaboration between Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay (the director of Selma and the creator of the magnificent drama When They See Us, about the young black men falsely accused of the rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park) is a bold creation, shaped and fuelled by anger, aimed at educating as much as – if not even more than – entertaining. It takes your breath away," Lucy Mangan of The Guardian wrote about the Netflix series.
While the reception of Durant and Kaepernick's series have been similar in many ways, it has differed in one major way. Durant's series has managed to avoid any backlash while Kaepernick's series has been criticized for one particular scene. During one episode of the Netflix show, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback compares the NFL combine process to slavery.
Prior to the NFL Draft each year, players are measured in every way from their overall height to the length of their arms and weight. In many ways, Kaepernick feels there are similarities between the combine process and how Black people were measured and examined prior to being auctioned off as slaves.
“Before they put you on the field, teams poke, prod and examine you searching for any defect that might affect your performance. No boundary respect. No dignity left intact,” Kaepernick said.
A number of conservative critics have stepped up to chastise the former NFL star for making such a comparison.
"How dare [Colin Kaepernick] compare the evil endured by so many of our ancestors to a bunch of millionaires who chose to play game," former NFL player and current Utah lawmaker Burgess Owens tweeted.
"Colin Kaepernick compares the NFL to slavery, complete with dramatized footage. Note: The average NFL player makes $900,000 per year, with some making up to $20 million. He leaves that part out," another critic tweeted.
It is important to note that Kaepernick is not the first person to make this comparison. In fact, sportswriters, athletes and fans have made this comparison for more than a few decades. In 2013, sportswriter Megan Livingston published an article called "Why The NFL Combine Conjures Slavery" on Shadow League. One year later, writer Thomas L. Scott published "5 Ways the NFL Combine Reminds Us of Slavery" in the Atlanta Black Star. In 2019, Kurt Streeter published "Is Slavery’s Legacy in the Power Dynamics of Sports?" as part of the 1619 Project. Not to mention, there's the popular book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, from iconic sports journalist William C. Rhoden. There's also that time that ESPN held a fantasy football draft segment that drew comparisons to the auction block.
Simply put, Kaepernick will not be the first person or the last person to find similarities between the two. In the meantime, he will continue to promote his new series and it is unlikely he'll address the backlash publicly.
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The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
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