As the Jan. 15 edition of The New Yorker hits newsstands this week, it does so with Martin Luther King Jr. depicted front and center on the cover.
MLK isn't alone in the illustration by Mark Ulriksen, however. Titled "In Creative Battle," the cover has the famed civil rights leader kneeling alongside Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett, two polarizing faces of the NFL. Both recreating and re-imagining a scene that stirred countless political debates and drew the condemnation of U.S. president Donald Trump throughout 2017, the image suggests King as a counterpart in the peaceful protests carried out by hundreds of NFL players, showing the late minister with one knee on the ground and his arms interlocked with those of Bennett and Kaepernick.
In explaining the illustration, Ulriksen said he wanted to envision what King might be doing today following a year that saw sports collide with racially-centered issues in everything from white supremacist rallies to the peaceful protests that prompted a :
I asked myself, "What would King be doing if he were around today?' the San Francisco-based artist Mark Ulriksen says, about the civil-rights leader, the inspiration for this week's cover. (The cover's title draws from Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, in which he spoke of a "creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.") "This is 49er country, and my mom and I have been going back and forth -- she's upset that players have brought politics into sports, but I say, How would you feel if you had to show up at work every day and salute a country that treats black people like second-class citizens? I'm glad that Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are making it political. 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 yards back, as the metaphor may be."
Kaepernick, who did not play in 2017, began kneeling during pregame national anthems in protest of "police brutality" during the 2016 preseason. His actions, coupled with a September 2017 call by Trump for NFL owners to "fire" any "son of a b----" players who kneel to advocate for racial equality, spawned countless additional protests. Some players continue to demonstrate to this day, while others have worked in the community to accompany protests with partnerships and law enforcement.