Colin Kaepernick wanted people to see societal flaws. Society focused on his instead. And he made mistakes. The pig socks. The Fidel Castro shirt. Lending some of the purity of his protest over to dubious commercialization. Not speaking enough about his desire to play football. Not speaking enough about anything, really.
For four years he took on the NFL and lost on aggregate. Each week he tightened things up on the scoreboard, though, winning more hearts and minds. The league paid for his collusion suit to go away. Those who wanted to conflate objecting to systemic racism with hating America had a harder time convincing others that's what was going on.
Kneeling during the national anthem came and went. A cynic could dismiss it as a fad. But the reason for the players' disgust never went away. Four-hundred years' worth of rotted foundation cannot be fixed overnight. Yet stunningly, America feels like a different place this morning than it did two weeks ago.
A righteous rage has shifted the balance of power ever so slightly. Something about this movement, about this moment, feels unlike all the stops and starts that came before. That could misguided prisoner-of-the-moment stuff. Or it could be the first tremors of an avalanche.
Consider the groundswell since George Floyd's excruciating death. Protestors and police alike are kneeling together in the streets. There are tens of thousands of Kaepernicks out there. Some are wearing the badge. Some still suffer under the baton. Some never could imagine they'd be this sympathetic to the cause.
There is power in numbers. Power in growing public sentiment. NFL players usurped control of the message by banding together to put out a strong PSA, in turn forcing Roger Goodell's hand. The commissioner admitted the league was wrong in its handling of racial concerns. He couldn't bring himself to say Kaepernick's name aloud. To do so would invite more legal trouble. In the end, it doesn't matter. Every sentence out of Goodell's mouth was punctuated with a No. 7.
Kaepernick won. Not on his time. Not without great personal cost. But he won.
To see Drew Brees, confidant of President Donald Trump, go from dismissive to receptive in a matter of days was head-spinning. Seeing a person grow a backbone in real-time is exhilarating. And that's what's happening en masse in this current petri dish.
Only the willfully ignorant can change the conversation to respect for the flag now. The method of protest drove people mad. It was supposed to. It was a means to an end. It was supposed to be uncomfortable. The process was always going to take some time.
A now-unemployed quarterback lit a spark that ignited an explosion of conscience. The fire burned slow at first. It's now crackling away with fury, burning away resistance. In its light we can see what we should have been seeing all along.