Sunday, October 16, was the 48th anniversary of that indelible moment in 1968 when John Carlos and Tommie Smith put their heads down and fists up on the Olympic medal stand as the anthem played, their friend the Australian silver-medalist Peter Norman standing in solidarity with their protest. Forty-eight years later to the day, in Buffalo, New York, Colin Kaepernick made his first start of the 2016 season as his 49ers took on the Bills.
He arrived at the game with his Afro picked out, wearing a Muhammad Ali T-shirt. Outside the stadium, in one of the most notorious tailgating spaces in the NFL, people were selling T-shirts showing Kaepernick with a rifle scope trained on his body and the phrase, “WANTED: Notorious Disgrace to America.” Fans were caught on camera “spearing” effigies of Kaepernick, complete with giant fake Afros. On social media there was tape of one fan yelling, before one spear, “Tackle the Muslim!”2
Inside the stadium the Bills were not much more welcoming. The team’s coach Rex Ryan is a Trump supporter who has spoken at rallies next to the wannabe despot and supports him because he “has the courage to say what is on his mind.” Buffalo Bills guard Richie Incognito, who was suspended from the league for bullying, a swirl of sexual-assault accusations, and calling teammate Jonathan Martin, all in good fun, “a half n——,” was on the sidelines. He also supports Trump for president. And then there is Bills star running back LeSean McCoy, who mocked Kaepernick by inviting the local police to the game. 3
One could be tempted to just write off the Buffalo Bills franchise and their fans entirely. But not all fans were playing this game. A group calling itself Just Resisting (JR), a collective of organizers and artists of black people and other people of color, and Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Buffalo, a chapter of the national organization of white people organizing other white people for racial justice—about 100 people in total—took to the stadium to fight back with what they called “a woke tailgate.”
The group wanted to not only show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick but also to raise the issue that was the catalyst for Kaepernick’s protests: police violence and the devaluing of Black Lives. They gathered three hours before kickoff “in lot 4a behind the Louie’s Hot Dog.” At noon, they rallied, drummed and chanted by Gate 5, with signs that read #BillsFansForBlackLives.4