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Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Time’ Cover Still Matters

His protest represents the stubborn refusal to let anyone ignore an issue that isn't going away anytime soon.

The image of Colin Kaepernick kneeling is so iconic at this point that putting it on the cover of a weekly news magazine like Time almost feels redundant. The 49ers quarterback has been boycotting the national anthem in response to widespread police brutality since the preseason, and for many, Colin Kaepernick has already succeeded in poisoning the national pastime. According to recent polls, 44 percent of Americans claim that they will stop watching the NFL if Kaepernick and others continue to protest.

Colin Kaepernick is hardly breaking news, but you have to wonder how this 44 percent feels about Terence Crutcher or Keith Scott. It's likely that for many of them, these latest deaths simply aren't news, either. At least some are racist, hate-filled assholes who could care less what happens to African-American men like Crutcher and Scott, who think that black athletes like Kaepernick are incapable of having opinions of their own. But a sizable percentage of them probably just can't be bothered.

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André 3000's "when I hear that another kid got shot by the popo it ain't an event no more" was an expression of utter dismay. For millions of Americans, police violence is just a thing that happens to people outside of their communities who are not like themselves. Rather than ask (and face) some hard questions about race in this country, they'd prefer to pretend that nothing's wrong.

Certainly, the last thing these fans want is to turn on an NFL game and be forced to confront a full-blown national crisis. While people may invest tremendous amounts of time and energy into fandom—and in some cases, draw much of their identity from it—the fact remains that sports are entertainment, even escapism. It provides comfort. The "stick to sports" maxim stems as much from a desire to be left alone in peace as it does a disdain for athletes.

Plenty of the people who hate Colin Kaepernick simply resent him for forcing them to think about an urgent societal problem when they're trying to lose themselves in sports. In spite (or possibly because) of an election year climate when political divisions in this country are as toxic as they've ever been, some folks just want to block out anything resembling politics when they turn on the game.

Colin Kaepernick isn't on the cover of Time because of Terence Crutcher or Keith Scott. While there are last-minute audibles in publishing, there's no explicit reference here made to Crutcher or Scott, or even the larger issue of Black Lives Matter. By positing "a debate about privilege, pride and patriotism," Time, at least on the cover, falls into the rhetorical trap of ignoring why Kaepernick is kneeling and instead focusing on the appropriateness of his actions. But given the events of this past week, though, it's nearly impossible to lose sight of the why.

Time isn't late to the party. By showing Kaepernick under a spotlight against a black background, they're affirming that one man hasn't just made a point about something bigger than sports—he's made his protest the main topic of conversation this season.

The timing, though, is less uncanny than it is inevitable. While Michael Brown wasn't the first African-American killed by law enforcement under dubious circumstances, Ferguson ushered in a new level of media scrutiny, one that now might be giving way to fatigue or indifference. Colin Kaepernick represents the stubborn refusal to let anyone ignore an issue that, just like his protest, shows no sign of relenting any time soon. Because the NFL's audience is so vast, this amounts to making sure this country doesn't ever lose sight of the cause he represents.

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