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Nevada should erect Colin Kaepernick statue now rather than waiting

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick looks on during his NFL workout held at Charles R Drew high school on November 16, 2019 in Riverdale, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Colin Kaepernick is going to have a statue on the University of Nevada campus at some point. Of that, I'm sure.

But why wait? Why not do it now? Yes, it'd be more convenient to let several years, maybe even multiple decades, pass before erecting the statue when the mention of Kaepernick's name won't elicit so much vitriol from his detractors. But why wait until it's convenient? Nevada should do the right thing, and that right thing would be to honor the school's most famous alum.

While I've advocated for a Kaepernick statue for multiple years (proof in this 2017 tweet), an online push for just that was launched last month after America was thrust into civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, the very thing Kaepernick was protesting against when he took a knee during the national anthem of NFL games in 2016.

On Wednesday, I was a part of KNPR's State of Nevada show that discussed whether Nevada should move forward with a Kaepernick statue at Mackay Stadium. Also on the panel was Wolf Pack football redshirt freshman Blake Baughman, who started a petition to "bring Colin Kaepernick's image back to university." You can listen to the full 35-minute show here, but one caller in particular, a man named Maurice from Las Vegas, made a salient point.

"If UNR is considering putting up a statue of Colin Kaepernick, don't take too long because you'll be leading the charge instead of waiting 20 years later and then you're looking to catch up with history," Maurice said. "It's rare that we can have institutions and people who lead a charge like Colin Kaeperncik did for social change."

Kaepernick's peaceful protest reminds me of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African-American track stars who gave a black power/human rights salute from the podium after finishing first and third, respectively, in the 200 meters of the 1968 Olympics. The move was called "one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympics," and Smith and Carlos were vilified, as was Australian silver medalist Peter Norman, who was hated and shunned when he returned home.

Norman's country finally softened, although largely after his death in 2006, as did America over the silent and shocking protest from Smith and Carlos, who both attended San Jose State, which, like Nevada, is a member of the Mountain West. SJSU built a student-inspired 22-foot statue of Smith and Carlos called Victory Salute in 2005, a full 37 years after their powerful civil rights statement. Nevada shouldn't wait 37 years. It shouldn't wait three more years. It shouldn't let time pass until it's convenient for the school, until public sentiment has completely shifted, although Kaepernick is viewed in a much more positive light now than four years ago when he first took a knee, according to recent polling.

State of Nevada's host Joe Schoenmann said university officials declined to appear on Wednesday's show, which might tell you their thinking on a statue at this stage. After all, this is the same university whose athletic administration in 2016 and 2017 asked its athletes not to kneel during the national anthem, and if they wanted to they needed to discussion the decision with their coaches before doing so (a handful of football players did raise a single fist during a game at Purdue in 2016 with coach Brian Polian saying he "legally had to give them free reign.")

Following the Wolf Pack football team's online petition, the university said last month it would "bring thoughtful and prominent recognition celebrating Colin Kaepernick and those Black social justice pioneers who came before him on our campus." It can start with a statue, either front and center at Mackay Stadium or in a prominent place on campus.

UNR has only two statues of people on campus, the first being John Mackay, who mined Virginia City's Comstock Lode to great wealth before donating heavily to Nevada (the Wolf Pack's football stadium is named after him). Mackay's statue, which is in front of Mackay School of Mines building, was completed by Gutzon Borglum (best known for sculpting Mount Rushmore) and dedicated in 1908 (six years after his death). The university's second statue is of former Nevada governor and Senator Richard Bryan, a class of 1959 graduate whose statue was dedicated in 2016.

Kaepernick warrants being the third to get a statue. It's hard to argue against the fact he's the most famous alum of the university. He also did great things while at the school, leading Nevada to the No. 11 national ranking during his senior season in 2010 as the Wolf Pack went 13-1 and beat No. 3-ranked Boise State in the greatest sports event in Reno in exactly a century, following the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries Fight of the Century. Kaepernick was an exemplary student, a 4.0 student in high school and college, and had a stellar NFL career, coming within a play of winning the Super Bowl before being blackballed from the league for his protest.

He's been one of the school's most philanthropic alums and his activism earned him GQ Citizen of the Year; Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Medal; Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award; and the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, among other honors.

Kaepernick is the modern-day Ali, a civil rights pioneer who did the right thing despite it not being the popular thing. Like Kaepernick, Ali was vilified for being a vocal advocate for civil rights while refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military. By the time of Ali's death in 2016, he had been fêted with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the world's most admired athlete. Kaepernick will be looked at in a similar light many decades from now. But Nevada must not wait until then to honor its most famous alum.

The university should show the courage Kaepernick did in sacrificing his NFL career and put up a statue now. Yes, it will likely cost the school money and donors, as not everybody aligns with Kaepernick's cause. But Kaepernick made the school tens of millions of dollars during his playing days and was the poster boy for the school's "Kap Was Here" marketing campaign that included newspaper ads in the Bay Area touting it was "the campus that made Kap great."

If UNR was proud of Kaepernick being an alum before he started kneeling, it should be even prouder today. It should show that gratitude with a statue that lives on campus forever. And it should do so now.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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