John Young: Colin Kaepernick vs. the great orange volcano

  • John Young
  • Special to the American-Statesman
2:30 p.m Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 Opinion
Honoree Colin Kaepernick speaks onstage at ACLU SoCal Hosts Annual Bill of Rights Dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on December 3, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

It was the year of the “angry fire god.”

In the ‘90s comedy “Joe Versus the Volcano,” that was the islanders’ name for the great Volcano Woo — a role that our president sought to reprise in 2017.

From on high, Donald Trump flung smoke and rocks and steam. He slurred his words as his lava sloshed. His orange crown glowed.

Throughout, our president was Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and flame. Point of lineage: Vulcan inherited his status as the son of Zeus.

Vulcan was the god of forging things through flame. Donald Trump? He promised to bring back coal — then set out to incinerate everything Barack Obama ever did.

Not that he accomplished it. In fact, most of his contributions were smoke and fumes. As 2017 elapsed, polls showed that fewer and fewer Americans beheld him with the awe a fire god demands.

I thought of the diminished stature of the great furnace master (despite Mike Pence’s feverish pumping of the bellows) while reading a fascinating profile about someone Trump attempted to sear with inflammatory tweets: NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The occasion was Sports Illustrated’s having awarded Kaepernick the 2017 Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for courage in pressing for social justice.

Bravo, SI.

Trump probably became the Republican front-runner the moment he assailed “political correctness.” That’s supposedly the curse of a touchy-feely, too-sensitive society.

I must say, if anyone has ever been victimized by a too-sensitive society, it is Kaepernick.

He took a silent, solemn knee to protest racial inequality. When his actions were assailed and misrepresented as “disrespecting the troops,” he didn’t assail back.

Trump blasted him, then bragged that his tweets kept Kaepernick off NFL rosters. Maybe that was true. That’s what happens in a hypersensitive society that can’t stand dissent. Colin Kaepernick: victim of PC.

As Kareem Abdul Jabbar writes in the same issue about the incrimination faced by Kaepernick, “It’s easier to blame the messenger and ignore the message.” Blaming the messenger — news organizations or anyone who disagrees with him — has been Trump’s chief preoccupation throughout his first year in office.

Reading about Kaepernick, one comes up with a mighty study in contrast between the man who took a knee and the president who sought to make him a pariah.

Those who blast Kaepernick would be interested to know that he has contributed $1 million to organizations that not only advance his concerns about social inequality but are doing something about it.

For one, he contributed $25,000 to Milwaukee-based I Will Not Die Young, which works to prevent youth violence, in part by staging mock funerals in schools to drive home its message.

That is just a parcel of the $209,000 he’s donated to youth initiatives.

Kaepernick’s charitable work “is fundamentally different from the typical celebrity philanthropy,” reports SI, citing his “view of donations as investments, not just charity,” and the target of his giving: grassroots organizations seeking to make a difference in young people’s lives.

That’s quite a contrast to Trump’s own foundation, which abused its charitable status in purchasing items such as a portrait of Trump and autographed football helmets, and which made political contributions, violating federal elections law.

The greatest contrast is in Kaepernick’s stoicism in the face of a torrent of insults and the clear blackballing in the NFL. Meanwhile, our president is proving the most thin-skinned and petulant chief executive this nation has ever known.

Oh, by the way, if one assumes that nothing has come of what Abdul Jabbar calls Kaepernick’s “one-knee revolution,” the NFL owners just donated $90 million to activism endeavors focused on African-American communities.

All of which began with a silent, dignified gesture by one whom many would feed to the volcano.

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