By now, it’s clear that the NFL really thought all of this would just go away. That if the biracial guy from Turlock, Calif., could just be blackballed long enough, his fans and fellow players would forget all about him and his pesky protest, and gleefully return to the nation’s stadiums for a new season.
This is my new definition of fantasy football.
Colin Kaepernick may no longer be a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, but if this past week has proved anything, it’s that his months-long protest against racial injustice and police brutality lives on in the NFL.
Already, several black players have picked up where Kaepernick left off, taking a knee or sitting down during the national anthem before preseason games. In my hometown of Cleveland, Seth DeValve of the Browns became the first white player to kneel beside his teammates. Predictably, people, including the lone Democrat on the Ohio Supreme Court, lost their minds. Football legend Jim Brown even chimed in, saying he would never “desecrate” the American flag that way, as if players had been stomping on it.
Kaepernick has become a true, unrepentant symbol of the movement for black lives, up there with Muhammad Ali in the eyes of millennials.
In New York, hundreds of protesters, many of them wearing Kaepernick’s No. 7 jersey, showed up outside the NFL’s headquarters last Wednesday. They blamed the league for being “complicit” in ostracizing him. Kaepernick thanked his fans in a tweet: “My faith always has been and always will be in the power of the people!”
The NAACP, jumping on the bandwagon, also sent NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a letter, asking to meet with him about Kaepernick’s unemployment. Stupidly and arrogantly, there hasn’t been much of a response from the NFL.
“If there’s not a meeting before the start of the season,” Gerald Griggs, vice president of the Atlanta chapter, warned Thursday, “it’s my belief that the coalition will call for a boycott of the NFL.”
I believe it, too. Kaepernick, with his tattoos and Afro of loose curls, has become a true, unrepentant symbol of the movement for black lives, up there with Muhammad Ali in the eyes of millennials.
That has to be a little weird for a guy who grew up in an overwhelmingly white farming town in the Central Valley.
But that Goodell didn’t see this coming, repeatedly declining to come out with full-throated support of Kaepernick’s cause in this era of racial discord, is a testament to how willfully blind some people are about the reach of racial injustice in this country.
This isn’t some niche issue of “identity politics” that can be ignored or mocked, any more than domestic violence is a niche issue for women – not that the NFL has done a great job of addressing that either.
The league is full of players who are black or brown men and raising black and brown sons and daughters. Or white players who are married to black or brown women and have biracial children.
DeValve is one of them. His wife is black. “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me,” he told reporters last week, “and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.”
It has been a year since Kaepernick plopped down on a bench during the national anthem, one of his earliest attempts to clumsily call out police brutality against people of color. That soon turned into kneeling in an attempt to show respect for the military – but it still drew the ire of veterans and people who tend to chant “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” at every opportunity.
In March, before the start of free agency, he opted out of his $14.5 million deal with the 49ers, knowing the team wouldn’t keep him at that salary. Since then, he’s been searching in vain for a contract with another NFL team.
In that time, we’ve elected Donald Trump as president – no thanks to Kaepernick, who didn’t vote, but that’s another diatribe.
We’ve also seen a resurgence of white supremacists and white nationalists, who not only feel comfortable marching and spewing hate, but feel that they have a friend in the White House. And on that last point, they’re not wrong.
We’ve had a notable spike in hate crimes against people of color, transwomen, and people of Islamic and Jewish faiths. We’ve had one of the most violent displays of race-related violence in years in Charlottesville, Va.
Dozens of black men and women have been killed by police, many of them caught on video, and few if any of the officers have been convicted.
That fans feel like Kaepernick is being benched for good because the NFL doesn’t want to wade into such politically charged societal issues – especially with so many team owners being Trump supporters – isn’t surprising.
But as retired offensive lineman Willie Colon told Yahoo Sports: “This will haunt the NFL. This man took a stand on issues that are still affecting us.”
Goodell insists Kaepernick isn’t being blackballed. That team owners aren’t indeed twisting themselves into knots trying to justify why they don’t want the unsigned free agent on their roster.
Meanwhile, absolutely atrocious white quarterbacks who have never kneeled in protest, like Jay Cutler, have landed contracts with NFL teams. Kaepernick isn’t the greatest quarterback in the world, but he’s not Cutler-makes-me-drink bad either.
Would it have helped if Kaepernick was a better quarterback? Sure. But his agent says he’s not being picky, waiting for a windfall of a contract. He’s perfectly willing to be a backup quarterback somewhere.
Overall, the whole thing looks fishy. And the longer the NFL tries to ignore what’s going on, staying largely silent and complicit, the longer Kaepernick and his fans will twist in the wind without a real explanation. And the more Goodell is proving the biracial guy from Turlock right.
Black lives are valued less. The cost of ignoring that is extraordinarily high – and not going away.