Kaepernick’s career-ending act of conscience

Colin Kaepernick (center) takes a knee during a pre-game rendition of the national anthem in 2016. Flanking him are teammates Eli Harold (58) and Eric Reid (35). (Photo: Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS/Alamy Live News)

By Richard Ades

Kaepernick & America, a new documentary on blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, points up an ironic fact: When the then-San Francisco 49er began taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016, he saw it as a way of protesting America’s racial injustice without disrespecting its flag.

Earlier, Kaepernick had simply remained seated during the anthem to speak out against incidents of police violence against Black men. But then Nate Boyer—a 49ers fan who’d served as a Green Beret—sent Kaepernick an open letter saying he considered this a hurtful act. The two met, and Boyer suggested taking a knee as a more respectful way of getting his point across.

So Kaepernick began dropping to one knee, only to be booed by fans—and by a presidential candidate who never missed a chance to foment anger, particularly against people of color. The quarterback’s career soon came to an end.

Directors Tommy Walker and Ross Hockrow interview several people who speak about Kaepernick on several levels: as a star quarterback who felt called upon to risk censure for the sake of his beliefs; as a person of mixed race and cultures, with all the additional pressures that entailed; and as the perfect foil for Donald Trump, who riled up supporters by saying team owners should fire any player who refused to stand for the flag.

Among the interviewees are CNN news anchor Don Lemon; Hue Jackson, one of the few Black men who’ve coached NFL teams; and DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter activist. Others include April Dinwoodie, an authority on transracial adoption, who theorizes about how Kaepernick might have been shaped by his personal history as a mixed-race child who was adopted and raised by White parents.

One person who isn’t interviewed is Kaepernick himself, who no longer seems interested in commenting on the controversy he inspired. It’s therefore understandable that he appears only in archival footage, but it’s also disappointing. His absence may leave viewers feeling they don’t really know the man who was willing to pay such a high price simply for exercising his right to free speech.

On the other hand, viewers will be all too familiar with the picture of America the film presents: one in which angry White men with guns use Kaepernick’s No. 7 jersey for target practice. We recognize this picture because it bears such a close resemblance to the America we still live in.

One commentator predicts that Kaepernick eventually will be seen as someone who—like the late Muhammad Ali—took an unpopular stance that ultimately was seen to be the right one. That note of optimism seems particularly justified following the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, with its new and lethal twist on “taking a knee.”

If that reconciliation ever happens, it may be of some consolation to Kaepernick, but it still won’t bring back his career.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Kaepernick & America will be available through streaming outlets beginning Sept. 2.

Sports doc doesn’t live up to its name (but fans won’t care)

Exuberant fans cheer on the Eagles in a scene from Maybe Next Year. (Photo courtesy of Over-Under Philly LLC)

By Richard Ades

Though it’s riding high after playing a decisive role in the presidential election, Philadelphia often suffers from an inferiority complex. According to the new documentary Maybe Next Year, that’s because the birthplace of American democracy is now a blue-collar berg that languishes in the shadow of New York City.

That may help to explain why Philly was the site of that classic sports-underdog tale, Rocky. And in the documentary’s view, it definitely explains why the happiness of so many of its residents rises and falls with the success of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Director Kyle Thrash proves the point by focusing on several Philadelphians as they follow the NFL team through its eventful 2017-18 season. Black or White, married or single, retired or struggling to make a living, all are devoted to their team heart and soul. Over the years, that’s made it all the more painful when the “Birds” disappointed them.

“I love my Eagles, but they gotta feel the same for us,” superfan Shirley cries during one of her frequent calls to a sports radio show. “I can’t take it!”

Equally passionate is Bryant, who admits the team may serve as the “scapegoat” for his disappointment over his own failure to find a mate. But that doesn’t stop him from unloading his frustrations in R-rated YouTube videos. “Run the m—–f—— ball!” he shouts when the team throws pass after incomplete pass.

Then there’s Barry, who’s put his money where other fans’ mouths are. Though he and his wife had planned to move to Florida after he retired, they instead spent their savings building a huge Eagles “locker room.” Essentially a private sports bar with a two-story ceiling, multiple tables and a giant TV screen, it allows them to share the team’s games with an extended “family” of fellow fans.

Finally, there’s Jesse, perhaps the most pitiable of all the featured Eagles followers. He naturally wants to share his love of football with his young son, but the boy’s autism makes it hard for him to learn the fundamentals. Adding to Jesse’s frustration, his aging father is suffering from a brain tumor that may keep them from sharing the team’s upcoming games.

Rounding out Thrash’s portrait of Eagles fandom are scenes of drunken tailgate parties that prove to be nearly as dangerous as football itself, along with a church service that doubles as a pep rally for the hometown team.

As football aficionados doubtless have realized already, Thrash fortuitously filmed his documentary during a season that proves to be atypical for the perennially hard-luck Eagles. Nevertheless, it still provides fans with plenty of scares, including the injury-related loss of a godlike quarterback. The tension level is especially concerning to Barry’s doctor, who worries the former heart attack patient will get too worked up during games.

Maybe Next Year is a funny, occasionally touching and always entertaining look at a beloved team’s power to unite a community while giving purpose to its residents’ lives. Whether their devotion amounts to an unhealthy obsession or a harmless diversion is a question director Thrash doesn’t presume to answer.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Maybe Next Year is available beginning Nov. 10 through VOD outlets.