The Jan. 15 cover of The New Yorker will feature a familiar face in a powerful way. Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett will be featured in an illustration kneeling alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The cover’s illustrator, Mark Ulriksen, said his inspiration for the piece stemmed from the question: “What would King be doing if he were around today?”
The cover’s title “In Creative Battle,” draws from King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964, when he opened by saying: “I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.”
Ulriksen lives in San Francisco, where Kaepernick played quarterback for six seasons. In 2016 Kaepernick sparked a national conversation about racial injustice in America by sitting, and later kneeling, during the national anthem before games. Kaepernick was not signed by an NFL team for the 2017 season, and some players, including Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, speculated it was a concerted effort by NFL owners to “send a message of ‘stay in between the lines.”
Ulriksen wrote about the message he wanted to send with the illustration. “This is 49er country, and my mom and I have been going back and forth–she’s upset that players have brought politics into sports, but I say, ‘How would you feel if you had to show up at work every day and salute a country that treats black people like second-class citizens?’ I’m glad that Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are making it political. I’m sure that if King were around today, he’d be disappointed at the slow pace of progress: two steps forward, twenty steps back. Or ten yards back, as the metaphor may be.”
Kaepernick is no longer in the league, but Bennett and other NFL players have carried the conversation forward this season, leading to widespread player activism.
Bennett began sitting on the Seahawks’ bench during the anthem in the preseason and continued to do so through most of the season. Bennett, when asked about why he began sitting, said: “First of all, I want to make sure that people understand I love the military. My father was in the military. I love hot dogs, like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. And I just want to see people have equality that they deserve.”‘
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