They were barefoot with beads and scarfs dangling around their neck, garments that seemed oddly out of place next to Olympic gold and bronze.
Looming uncertainty surrounded Tommie Smith and John Carlos as they took to the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics.
As the trumpets began blowing and the drums began rolling for the start of the National Anthem, Smith and Carlos each slipped a black glove onto their hands.
With the world watching, they raised their fists and saluted.
Fifty years ago, almost to date, Smith and Carlos protested poverty and lynching after placing first and third respectively in the 200-meter dash in Mexico City.
The simple gesture caused the sprinters to be expelled from the games and ordered to return home to America,
Death threats and social rejection awaited them.
As if hundreds of years of slavery and oppression wasn’t enough
For the last half century, we looked to the air for long-term, festering, racial inequality and rebellion in the form of a fist.
America learned to respect the high flying fists of injustice after some time and allowed the 1968 Olympic Medal ceremony to embed itself into the history textbooks.
Though, 50-years later we no longer look to the air for the symbol of hope in turbulent America.
Instead we look to the ground.
On one knee.
Colin Kaepernick is infamously known for kneeling during the national anthem on the San Francisco 49ers sidelines as their backup quarterback.
He began kneeling in 2016 to protest police brutality. The quarterback’s protest rang so loudly, it attracted the attention of names as big as Lebron James, Nike, Serena Williams and Harvard University.
On Thursday, Harvard awarded Kaepernick with the W.E.B Du Bois medal. The honor is given to individuals who are fierce advocates for human rights and who have contributed greatly to shaping the black community.
As he joins a rare list of legends who have gifted their platform, resources and voice to a greater cause, Colin Kaepernick allies a similar message to that of Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson.
Drafted in 2011, Kaepernick rose to stardom after leading San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance as well as two NFC title appearances.
Accolades that proved to be insignificant to what was to come.
Kaepernick sparked the biggest public relations crisis in NFL history when he decided to kneel. The decision to remove the quarterback seemed like a small fix to a big problem. As expected, his resistance continues to resonate in the league with beloved icons still kneeling before the stars and stripes.
In Kaepernick’s absence, teams in the league have linked arms in unity, kneeled, raised fists and held hands with their opposition. Colleges and universities have participated in the culture shift towards equality and change by also taking a knee.
It’s been two years since Kaepernick threw a football in an official NFL game, yet the conversation around him is not going away.
Kaepernick’s strategic silence is deafening.
He has declined to publicly comment about his actions, his speeches are entirely disclosed and his twitter strategy is incredibly savvy. The former quarterback, turned political icon, refrains to only retweeting relevant content to his mission; protesting police brutality and gaining equality.
In early September, Nike released a commercial advertisement featuring Kaepernick in honor of their 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign.
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” a quoted voice over from the commercial advertisement, was printed over a black and white portrait of Kaepernick and draped on billboards across America’s greatest cities for the world to see.
Kneeling to stand up for others, cost Kaepernick his career.
But he gained support from some of the world’s most prominent figures. Nike, Harvard, Lebron, Serena Williams are only a few. Time Magazine awarded Kaepernick as the 2017 runner up for person of the year.
Colin Kaepernick’s face is postered on billboards across America as the face of a revolution against social injustice.
He is an icon of the 21st century.
“It’s only crazy until you do it,” Kaepernick said in the Nike commercial.
The thought of kneeling during the National Anthem on live television five years ago would have been ludacris. Almost as deranged as slipping on a black glove and raising your fist during the Olympic medal ceremony.
With the entire world as your audience.
The talk around Colin Kaepernick has been twisted into a negative light. After being left unemployed by the NFL and President Trump making degrading comments to Kaepernick, and all who kneel, the marvelous rebellion has a lingering overcast.
People like Colin Kaepernick only come around once in a generation.