Over a year ago, before Colin Kaepernick was covering GQ’s Men of the Year issue and being recognized as a true icon of social activism, J. Cole appeared on stage wearing a red San Francisco 49ers jersey bearing his name.
What it suggested at that time became clearer with Cole’s subsequent 4 Your Eyez Only album and tour: the rapper understood Kaepernick on a deeper level. This, at a time when only a handful of entertainers were expressing such things.
Fast-forward to the present, Cole finds himself beside fellow Kaepernick supporters Ava DuVernay and Harry Belafonte, penning a brief but powerful essay on why he’s remained a steadfast supporter of Kaep’s mission.
Cole opens his piece by recalling meeting Kaepernick at a Jets game during Kaepernick’s breakout year, the 2012-2013 NFL season.
“I actually went to the first game he really played in, against the Jets,” he says. “I just happened to be at that game. It hit another level for me the second I learned he was taking a knee.”
The multi-platinum rapper, a native of North Carolina and a noted sports fan, says that Kaep’s poise in the interviews that followed his kneeling caught him off guard. “I just didn’t know when I met him that the person with the biggest balls in sports would be him,” Cole admits.
In the second and final paragraph of his piece, Cole further scrutinizes the driving forces behind Kaepernick’s recent and current NFL unemployment, extolling the ex-Pro Bowl QB for his audacity and courage.
“You’re talking about a guy in his athletic prime, who’s lived his whole life dreaming about playing football at a level that millions of kids dream to get to,” writes Cole. “And in his first big season, he takes his team to within five yards of winning a Super Bowl. But then, at some point in time, he becomes conscious about what’s happening in the world. And suddenly something that he’s ben doing blindly for his whole life—standing for the national anthem—now feels uncomfortable.”
This fall, J. Cole published a Twitter thread encouraging boycotts of the NFL, a rant inspired by Kaepernick’s fight to both play football again and heighten awareness of social injustice. And on his 4 Your Eyez Only tour, Cole performs in a prison uniform, on a stage surrounded by barbed wire. It is meant to illuminate America’s issues with mass incarceration and desperate need for corrections reform. His ode to Kaep is just the latest of his urgent public messages.
“Had he not done that [protest],” Cole concludes, “this guy would be making millions of dollars right now. Period, point blank. And more important than the money, he was living his dream. He sacrificed his dream.”
Read the piece in its entirety here.