Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih had never heard of National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick before he visited the United States last September. In fact, Albaih has never followed the NFL. Hard-hitting American football is barely known in central Africa.
But he became inspired by Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the U.S. Albaih said when he first saw the image of Kaepernick kneeling, it reminded him of the 1968 Olympics, when American track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised black gloved fists on the medal stand.
“So for me, this is the black fist of our century, of our generation,” Albaih told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
With that image in mind, Albaih pulled out pen and paper and began to sketch Kaepernick kneeling, drawing the athlete's huge afro in the shape of a fist.
“For me, the black fists manifest the struggle of African Americans and of course civil rights as a whole,” said Albaih.
A friend was so moved by the image that he encouraged Albaih to have it printed on T-shirts to bring attention to the cause.
American entertainers Chance the Rapper and Common, along with a handful of other celebrities, have been seen wearing the T-shirt, which has since gone viral.
Kaepernick remains unsigned this season, which is scheduled to begin on Thursday. Many have accused NFL teams of not signing the quarterback because of his sideline protest.
In Sports Illustrated magazine last month, writer Michael Rosenberg argued Kaepernick has become a symbol just like running back Ray Rice, whose NFL career effectively ended after he was caught on camera punching out his fiancee at a casino.
Rosenberg said NFL teams will “gladly take five men who act and think like Colin Kaepernick before signing Kaepernick himself, just as they often take players who commit domestic violence but want nothing to do with Rice.”
Albaih, who lives in Doha, Qatar, was inspired by Kaepernick while on a fellowship last fall at Maine’s Colby College, where he taught human rights.
While in the U.S., Albaih visited the Malcolm X memorial in New York and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
The idea of a Romanian-born Sudanese cartoonist living in Doha immersing himself in the Kaepernick controversy does not strike Albaih as odd.
“We in this part of the world, in Africa, we heard about the struggle; we saw the struggle. Malcolm X came to Sudan, Muhammad Ali came to Sudan. I grew up seeing the black fist and it became such a powerful icon,” Albaih said.
Athletes like Ali, Carlos, Smith and now Kaepernick have all been demonized for using their platform to push their ideas, according to Albaih.
Albaih, however, adds they have also influenced the world around them “because this is a turning point right know, kneeling down in protest of all these things that need to be fixed.”