The New Yorker’s January cover will feature a painting of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett kneeling together. The artist said he believed that King would have identified with Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice.
On Jan. 8, The New Yorker announced the cover for its Jan. 15 issue. The image depicted Bennett, Kaepernick and King kneeling together on a grassy field, arms locked with the civil rights icon and clasping his hands in prayer. The painting was titled “In Creative Battle.”
“I asked myself, what would King be doing if he were around today?” explained San Francisco-based artist Mark Ulriksen, who painted the cover.
In August 2016, Kaepernick stirred national debate after he began to kneel during the national anthem that preceded NFL games. The quarterback, who is now a free agent, said that he was protesting police brutality against racial minorities.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
In August 2017, Bennett began to protest during the anthem at the beginning of the current NFL season. The defensive lineman stated that his decision was prompted by fatal violence that broke out that month following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“First of all I want to make sure people understand I love the military — my father was in the military,” Bennett said, according to The Seattle Times. “I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American … I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve and I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message and keep finding out how unselfish we can be in society, how we can continuously love one another and understand that people are different.”
Ulriksen praised Kaepernick and Bennett for their protests and asserted that King would have approved.
“I’m glad that Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are making it political,” Ulriksen said. “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 years back, as the metaphor may be.”
On Jan. 9, King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, weighed in on Ulriksen’s cover. A vocal supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, she said that Kaepernick “had the method down pat, but he’s not getting the message.”
Alveda said that her uncle would have invoked religion to help mend racial disparities and asserted that Bennett and Kaepernick’s protests were too confrontational.
“Uncle M.L. said we need to live together as brothers … or perish as fools,” Alveda told Fox News. “We want justice for everyone.”
While King is widely respected in the U.S. today, he was a polarizing figure during his own lifetime. In 1966, Gallup found that 32 percent of the American public viewed King positively, while 63 percent viewed him negatively.