Like me, perhaps you woke up this week with friends on social media applauding ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith for excoriating Colin Kaepernick for not supporting a candidate in the 2016 presidential election.
“He comes across as a flaming hypocrite,” said a very angry Smith. “And as far as I’m concerned, I’m not interested in a damn word that he has to say, and quite frankly, I hope he goes away.”
Welcome to the club, Stephen. But I have a hard time joining my friends in giving you kudos for now, and only now, voicing your discontent with him, because there is something incredibly suspicious about your outrage.
Smith, headlong into his angry tirade, said this: “[Kaepernick] of all people, because of the position he took, because of the attention he brought to the issues. The fact that you don’t even have the decency to go to the poll and activate yourself in this election, as our president said, is a damn shame.”
Most people hear that and think, “Well, he’s right. Everyone should vote, because that’s what I’ve been told since I was a kid. It’s your duty. Right on, Stephen A. Smith!”
Then, if you look a bit closer at the words he chose, it should become clear that the broad “everyone should vote” message isn’t really what he’s getting at. He cites that he should have “activated” himself, “as our president said.”
The president did say that the black community should “activate itself,” but the context of that statement that he cited is important. “I will consider it a personal insult,” Obama told the Congressional Black Caucus gala, “if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote.”
The president wasn’t saying everyone should go vote for whomever they please because it’s our civic duty to vote. He was saying he would consider it a “personal insult” if black voters didn’t turn out to elect Hillary Clinton and thus preserve his legacy, specifically. So it’s extremely unlikely that Smith’s anger is predicated on the fact that Colin didn’t participate in the election process, as his supposed civic duty might require of him, though I admit, that appears to be the impetus for the rant on the surface. After all, I don’t think Smith would be applauding Kaepernick if he came out saying that he voted for Trump. Smith is most likely angry, based on this curious reference, because he didn’t get roused enough to “get his butt to the polls” to vote for Hillary, whom I’d wager dollars to donuts that Stephen A. Smith believes black Americans should have “activated” themselves to vote for in response to the perceived institutional racism that Smith thought Kaepernick meant to highlight. This is a tantrum, and little more.
But here’s the real kicker, for me. Let’s climb out on the limb and assume that Smith really is outraged on principle, and that he really thinks Kaepernick not voting at all, not even having “the decency” to write in a candidate of his choosing (which would have been ultimately futile and a waste of his time, let’s be honest) makes him a “flaming hypocrite” and that he “betrayed his cause.” That’s still not entirely accurate. Kaepernick’s refusal to vote is actually pretty consistent with the purpose of his stupid “protest.”
First of all, Kaepernick has been extremely critical of both candidates, calling Trump “obviously racist” while suggesting that Hillary Clinton is also a racist, and should probably be in jail to boot.
Fact is, he’s actually painted Hillary Clinton in a less favorable light than Trump, which as I’ve noted, really upset those among the left that were paying attention. Furthermore, the underlying statement Kaepernick has hoped to make was that there are systemic problems in America that go beyond who may or may not be the president. Just as he refuses to stand for the time-honored celebration of the national anthem, his refusal to take part in the time-honored American election process could be considered part and parcel of the same ideological position of protest.
“To me,” Kaepernick said of Clinton and Trump, “it didn’t really matter who went in there. The system still remains intact that oppresses people of color.”
Now, I will say that he is completely wrong in that position, and that he remains the uninformed idiot that he has always been. And personally, I believe when uninformed idiots do not vote, the country is the better for it. But to call him a hypocrite for it isn’t really fair, either.
Point is, there’s really not a lot to be impressed about in Smith’s angry rant about Kaepernick. It’s a tantrum disguised as middle-of-the-road criticism, and at the very best, an expression of his disappointment that Kaepernick didn’t fall in line to do the one thing that Stephen A. Smith thinks all black people should have done in response to the perceived institutional racism Kaepernick highlighted with his protest -- i.e., he didn’t vote for Hillary.
William Sullivan can be followed on Twitter.