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Yesterday’s NFL opener was a nailbiter for more than just sports fans, as the unlikely conversation about racist police practices started by Colin Kaepernick became an integral part of the pre-game buzz. Who would join the protest? And what about the 9/11 anniversary?

In the end, it was mostly just game on. Some players linked arms, others took a knee, others raised a gloved fist. But everybody talked about it.

Kaepernick himself didn’t play yesterday. But some fans circulated this old Beats by Dre video ad, which shows the quarterback being theatrically harassed by screaming, vitriolic detractors, while he maintained his cool with the help of noise-cancelling headphones. “WOW,” tweeted writer and activist Shaun King. “This 2 year old commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick is powerfully prophetic for where we are today.”

Sure. The man has clearly developed a thick skin. And it would be easy to dismiss verbal abuse as a minor cost of doing business for highly compensated professional players (if you’re willing to overlook the risk of traumatic brain injury, of course) if it weren’t for the fact that the vast majority of regular folks who attempt to join the conversation started by Kaepernick have no magical headphones with which to block out the hate.

That’s part of what makes the 49’ers decision to donate $1 million to two Bay Area organizations that focus on race so notable. First, they’re supporting an employee who has been thoughtful in the way he uses the field they all play on to talk about issues that affect everyone, whether we want to talk about them or not.

But it’s also a reminder to other employers that they can be influenced by events and be responsive to the communities they serve in meaningful, unplanned, ways.

I recently spoke with Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which chronicled the decades long great migration of American born black citizens away from the Jim Crow South, to the promise of a better life up north. (She was as wonderful as you’d expect. I’ll have the entire interview up later this week.)

“Everything that is happening today,” she says, talking specifically about the issues with the police, “is tied directly to our history. And it’s not ancient history.” She says that business leaders have an extraordinary opportunity to find where that history intersects with their own spheres of influence and join in. “It’s possible to have these difficult conversations and find comfort in them,” she said. Let purpose silence the hate. “The world is opening up, and the invisible people are coming into the light who have not been permitted to have a voice before. This is a wonderful thing.”


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