Among this year’s most edited articles on Wikipedia is the entry for one Colin Kaepernick – the NFL player who has caused a storm by choosing to kneel down during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the United States. As the debate morphed into a nationwide kerfuffle about sports, patriotism and one Donald Trump, Kaepernick’s page and that of other athletes who have come out in support of him have become the backdrop for heated racial and political debates.
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After someone changed the article’s text to say that Kaepernick’s protest was "motivated by what he viewed as the oppression of black people,” one editor fired back that the “[h]istory of minority oppression in the U.S. is an objective reality, not a subjective opinion.
“Leaving the phrase ‘what he viewed as’ in that sentence undermines the legitimacy of racial oppression. Stating blatantly that oppression of minorities is woven into the fabric of U.S. history in no way ‘takes sides’ (as a previous editor suggested)... It simply acknowledges the undeniable history that motivated Kaepernick’s actions,” the editor wrote.
Even hyperlinks posed an issue, with another user deleting the link in Kaepernick's entry to the Wikipedia article on "Segregation" from the word “oppression of people of color,” prompting the same aforementioned editor to defend the link’s relevance, by writing that “racial segregation is the archetypal example of minority oppression.”
The issue of Kaepernick's racial identity was also called into question, with some suggesting that the fact that his biological mother was a “blonde” women of Polish descent undermines his racial politics. “It is curious that black lives matter, but who exactly is black does not,” a snarky anonymous user wrote.
After Trump claimed in March that the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback was having a hard time finding a new team because “NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump” – a new and fierce debate erupted, prompting the inclusion of a “controversy” section on Kaepernick's page, and later, an entirely new entry dedicated to the “U.S. national anthem protests.”
While Wikipedia famously allows anyone to edit articles, Kaepernick’s page has been locked since 2016 when his protest first made headlines, and since then unregistered users can no longer edit its content. And though the encyclopedia’s more senior editors will restrict editorial freedom to stave off attempts to politicize its content, the system is still exposed to more subtle forms of political bias.
This week, as the debate escalated into a sports-driven referendum on patriotism following Trump’s claim that the protests were a sign of disrespect, Kaepernick’s page was again dragged into the fray, with one editor changing the text to say the quarterback had "displayed disrespect for America.”
“Isn’t that assigning a value judgment?” one user asked, claiming the wording violated Wikipedia’s police of neutrality. Though the line was eventually deleted, a debate ensued: “He did display disrespect for America. This whitewashing is yet another example of Wikipedia’s far-left extremist bias.”
Indeed, despite its best efforts to stay neutral, Wikipedia is often accused of having a liberal streak by the president’s supporters, some of whom aired their grievances in the articles for other NFL players involved in the protest.
LeSean McCoy, the running back for the Buffalo Bills and one of the growing number of players who have decided to stand up to Trump’s attack on the league this week, has also been the victim of a Wikipedic backlash.
Just this Sunday someone deleted the entire content of his entry and replaced it with a single sentence, saying that “McCoy is the man who stretched during our national anthem to protest Trump but in doing so also disrespected those soldiers who died and those who are currently risking their lives to protect him so he can make multi millions of dollars.” The edit was quickly deleted (or “reverted” in Wikipedia’s terminology) and, after numerous similar instances of vandalism, this page too was put under protected status.
The same thing happened to the article for Robert Kraft, the Jewish-American owner of the New England Patriots, who said he was “deeply disappointed by the tone” of Trump’s statement that players who bent down on one knee during the anthem were “sons of bitches.” Like McCoy, Kraft’s entire article was deleted on Sunday and replaced with one line: “An American traitor. Does not stand up for America.”
And it’s not just football stars who are involved in the furor: After he voiced criticism of Trump for rescinding the already rejected invitation to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors to visit the White House, the article for Lebron James was also caught in the crossfire. For example, the sentence indicating James’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president was changed to say that James “endorsed crooked Hillary Clinton’s failed bid” in the last election. The edit was quickly rejected. Sad.
On Monday, Trump tweeted that “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.” Wikipedia and its editors seem to think otherwise. Say what you will about Wikipedia’s trustworthiness, but the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit is remarkably accurate when it comes to capturing the public sentiment.