How Marxism Fueled The National Anthem Protests At Football Games

How Marxism Fueled The National Anthem Protests At Football Games

Colin Kaepernick and his supporters may not realize it, but their ideas originate in a nineteenth-century German who interpreted the world as a struggle between oppressors and oppressed.
David Byrne
By

When Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem in 2016, he probably had no idea what he was starting. But Kaepernick also probably had no idea where his own ideas originated. Like so many left-wing beliefs, Kaepernick’s intellectual odyssey begins with the nineteenth-century German philosopher Karl Marx.

Marx explained the world through exploitation and oppression. A struggle between oppressor (evil) and oppressed (good) guides every society, in every age, he said. Marx specifically argued that a “veiled civil war” exists within society between these two groups. Whereas, say, Catholics interpret the world as a struggle of good versus evil, Marx materialized this struggle, insisting it rages between groups of people. The evil oppressors initially have the upper-hand, but Marxism says this will change.

How does Marx recommend bringing change? First, by raising consciousness about this raging social conflict. For Marxists, the oppressed and exploited must be taught that they are victims. Then, they begin—sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently—to challenge and change the existing oppressive social structure.

Current NFL chaos provides the most recent example. Thousands of activists across the country have dedicated their lives toward promoting awareness of this struggle by creating social unrest in the name of justice. Marx contends their efforts will be rewarded because, as he famously declared in the Communist Manifesto, the victory of oppressed “is inevitable.”

Racial Justice, When Characterized in Marxist Forms

Kaepernick and millions of others who sympathize with him have never read Marx. No matter. We learn not just by directly reading sources, but from friends, teachers, and the media. In the twentieth century, prominent African-American writers like W.E.B DuBois, Langston Hughes, C.L.R. James, and George Padmore used Marx’s ideas to explain racial issues in America, emphasizing struggle and oppression. In accordance with Marx, they characterize American capitalist society as inherently oppressive.

Padmore, for example, writes in 1931: “The oppression of Negroes assumes two distinct forms: on the one hand they are oppressed as a class, and on the other as a nation… National (race) oppression assumes its most pronounced forms in the United States of America.” Since America is the beacon of capitalism, oppression is most ripe here. Hughes wrote a poem called “Oppression” (1921) depicting what he believes is the inherently oppressive nature of American society.

The philosophy spread to the next generation of prominent African-American writers, like Angela Davis, Huey Newton, and Harry Edwards. This can be said of a host of academics, too, many of whom may not be formal Marxists, but adopt part of his paradigm, such as the existence of rampant oppression and exploitation in American capitalism. Like medieval clergy, they are learned experts. They teach these ideas to their students, some of whom go on to foment protests and riots, while others rhetorically support it.

The 49ers Hired Consultants Steeped in Marxism

Students don’t only exist in college classrooms. Edwards, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, has found students on the athletic playing field. A three-decades-long staff consultant to the 49ers on promoting and developing players and staff based on race, Edwards is steeped in Marxism. Marx is to sociologists what Freud is to psychologists. Their writings, although not always literally followed, form a general framework for the entire field. They help establish the discipline. No one can succeed in contemporary sociology without adhering to some Marxist principles.

Edwards’ own writing reveals Marx’s influence. He titled his autobiography “The Struggle that Must Be” (1980). In this work, Edwards applied Marxist ideas to athletics because in his mind, athletics and society are inexorably bound. He writes, “any attack upon the sports institution of a society is intuitively and widely regarded as an attack upon the most central and preeminent values and beliefs of that society.”

Sports and society can’t be separated because for sociologists, nothing within society exists in isolation. The sports world is microcosm of the larger macrocosm we call society. For Edwards, the oppressive nature of American society also manifests itself in sports. In his “Revolt of the Black Athlete” (1970), Edwards writes, “There is increasing restlessness of among white athletes as they realize more and more that it is not only the black athlete but whites, too, who are exploited by organized sports in America.” Exploitation and oppression are inherent in the capitalist system. Sports are not an exception, but a representation.

The black athlete, continues Edwards, must revolt in the name of freedom and equality. He argues, “The revolt of the black athlete is a phase of the black liberation movement….It was inevitable that this revolt would develop…It was only a matter of time before African-American athletes, too, shed their fantasies and delusions and asserted their manhood. The revolt was as inevitable as the rising sun.” Accordingly, Edwards organized athletic boycotts in the late 1960s.

Open Mind, Insert Agenda

Marxists and quasi-Marxists don’t only find potential converts in the classroom. Edwards has roamed the sidelines of 49er games for decades, and formed a close friendship with Kaepernick, whom Edwards says he advises. Kaepernick acknowledges “Dr. Edwards is a good friend. He is someone I talk to and run a lot of things by and have lots of conversations with.” Edwards returns the compliment: “He [Kaepernick] is evolving through an awakening.”

By awaking, Edwards means accepting the Marxist paradigm. Edwards teaches Kaepernick Marxist principles and Kaepernick acts accordingly. Kaepernick rationalized his refusal to stand for the national anthem thus: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Where he got these ideas from should be obvious.

Christians, too, believe in the existence of a cosmological struggle between good and evil, but this conflict fundamentally rages between God and Satan, not social groups. As Pope John Paul said about Satan before a general audience on August 13, 1986: “This fallen angel has acquired dominion over man to a certain extent…the dominion and the influence of Satan and of the other evil spirits embraces all the world. . . . The action of Satan consists primarily in tempting men to evil…” Marxism, in contrast, blames our ills on fellow man, fundamentally pitting man against man, so hatred isn’t cast upon Satan, but upon our fellow human beings.

Kaepernick and most of his supporters may not realize it, but the real origins of their ideas lie in a nineteenth-century German thinker who interpreted the world as a struggle between oppressors and oppressed. Is this an accurate depiction of American society? That is a separate question. I merely want to show the origins of this idea.

David Byrne earned his doctorate in intellectual history from Claremont Graduate University. In 2018, University of Nebraska Press will publish his book titled "Ronald Reagan: An Intellectual Biography."

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