On Tuesday morning, Sports Illustrated unveiled the magazine’s cover for the week of Oct. 2, 2017. And though the cover professes a focus on unity in sports, it has the internet divided.
Under the banner “A Nation Divided, Sports United,” the cover features prominent pro athletes — including rivals LeBron James (who called the president a “bum” earlier this week) and Steph Curry (who rejected the president’s White House invite) — as well as much-maligned NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, all locking arms.
The cover story will reportedly focus on the sports world’s reaction to the president’s comments calling for the firing of NFL athletes who “take a knee” during the national anthem — namely, the widespread protests by NFL players, the twitter reactions by James and other NBA stars, and other forms of protest, such as the first instance of taking a knee in the MLB.
On social media, some praised the cover for making a strong show of unity in response to the president’s divisive comments.
But others weren’t so thrilled, particularly over the omission of former San Francisco 49ers quarter Colin Kaepernick, whose protests during the 2016 season were the impetus for the entire debate presently unfolding.
Kaepernick began protesting police violence against people of color in 2016 by sitting — and later kneeling — during the national anthem. He has since been unable to secure a job after entering into free agency, which many people think is linked to his protesting, and constitutes a form of blackballing.
Nevertheless, athletes across the NFL began to follow his example, and Kaepernick’s movement ballooned after the president described him and any fellow athlete-protesters as a “son of a bitch” during a speech in Alabama.
Given Kaepernick’s influence on the movement, and the repercussions he may have suffered as a result, his absence on the Sports Illustrated cover dedicated to “unity” is especially conspicuous.
The sports illustrated graphic is another reason why their needs to be more diverse opinions in a room esp from a marketing/brand person
— brittianycierra (@brittianycierra) September 26, 2017
Sports Illustrated, you forgot the person who started this movement in the first place.
— Shae Did It♊ (@Beyond_Shae) September 26, 2017
Others questioned the inclusion of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Goodell said that he was “proud” of the NFL players for their united reaction to President Trump’s statement and tweets.
He has also recently been attending meetings and forums with NFL players interested in getting the league more involved in social justice issues such as police violence.
However, Goodell is a widely criticized figure in the NFL, particularly around race and social justice issues.
Tasked with trying to clean up the league’s image, Goodell instituted harsh penalties for misconduct. But some see him as too punitive toward athletes who are found to have used drugs, and too forgiving for infractions such as violence against women (as in the case of Ray Rice) and cheating by white players and coaches (as in the case of the New England Patriots’ “Deflategate“).
Goodell also had a lukewarm response to Kaepernick’s initial protests. And now, his focus on “unity,” instead of the issue of institutional violence against black people that Kaepernick was attempting to draw attention to in the first place, could be seen as a whitewashing of the protest’s original intent.
Many take Goodell’s inclusion on the cover, over Kaepernick’s, as giving credit where credit is not due — it has the effect of giving a wealthy white man disproportionate kudos and visibility for a movement started by people of color, particularly one who is now unable to get a job.
TBH I’m glad Brady didn’t take the knee. If he had, HE’D be the one on the cover of Sports Illustrated and it would’ve become about him.
— Bob Chipman (@the_moviebob) September 26, 2017
Overall, whether you agree or disagree with the cover design, Sports Illustrated is highlighting one big fact: This has been no ordinary week for sports in America.