Professional athletes, and really all celebrities by extension, are constantly under the microscope. Their every move is analyzed, their most insignificant choices critiqued. And yet it is ironic that of all the things a celebrity could do to draw the ire of the public, it would be not standing while a song was played that provoked such a large uproar.
Colin Kaepernick is a name most of us have heard constantly over the last week, as he faces criticism and at time vitriolic hate from all directions. The professional football player’s refusal to stand before the American National anthem continues to split opinions, but there can be no doubt that his reputation will be forever altered by this decision. As I watched article after article and Facebook status after Facebook status argue one angle or another, I began to wonder to myself whether Kaepernick’s rebellious gesture was really worth it.
Sure, his claim that his country oppresses ethnic minorities can hardly be disputed, so on principle alone his stance seems to make sense. But can any concrete benefit really come out of his actions? Enough to justify the ongoing anger and the likely professional consequences? It was this wondering that brought me to an interesting question – at what point is a sacrifice ‘worth it’?
When the late Muhammad Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War, he was prevented in competing in his sport for more than three years, losing out on millions of dollars and his prime athletic years.
When Nelson Mandela stood up to the oppression of apartheid South Africa, he was branded a terrorist and spent 27 years in prison.
At the time, these great men were fighting for their beliefs; it must have been tempting to question the pragmatism of their actions. Were either of them certain that their actions would effect significant change? Probably not. And yet they were willing to undergo the sacrifices that they did to maintain their ideals.
What we have forgotten is that the fruits of actions do not and never will come immediately, and they will not always be obvious. As Muslims, we are not judged on the outcome of our deeds, but on our efforts. Our beloved Prophet PBUH, the greatest of creation, was tortured for 13 years in Mecca, and yet at the time of the hijra had only amassed only a small handful of Muslims.
It is tempting to sit at home and claim the sacrifice of Colin Kaepernick will be for naught. But it is far more useful to ask ourselves how far we would go for our principles. Will we only stand up for justice when victory seems achievable? Or will we remain steadfast when it is difficult, when everyone seems to be against us, and when the end is nowhere in sight?
“And of the people is he who worships Allah on an edge. If he is touched by good, he is reassured by it; but if he is struck by trial, he turns on his face [to the other direction]. He has lost [this] world and the Hereafter. That is what is the manifest loss.” (22.11)