Jacob .F. Farr
Naked Politics Blogger
Colin Kaepernick made himself a martyr for the improvement on social issues concerning people of colour. This was in direct response to the movement that began in 2016 with a spate of police officers murdering young black men with little to no repercussions. A martyr is a strong word, however, it does not seem so outlandish when you look at what Kaepernick has sacrificed. The salary he would have been guaranteed as a starting or back up quarterback in the NFL was astronomical and I can tell you as a fan that he is better than a lot of starters last season. The questions of not having a team for Kaepernick cannot be put down to his ability – as shown by a recent study – but instead down to his outspoken nature and to an extent his race.
Since Kaepernick’s disappearance from the NFL sidelines, many things have changed. The most noticeable being a large orange man taking the presidency who gives a voice to the bigots and racists of this world. It is no secret that America is an institutionally racist country. The facts, the statistics, the videos, the first-hand experiences, all add up to make it as clear as day. So, it is a worrying sign when a president stokes the racial flames on the side of white supremacy. Trump came after the NFL, as did his VP Mike Pence, who famously walked out of a 49ers vs Colts game due to around a dozen 49ers taking a knee during the anthem. You can take the 49ers away from Kaepernick but you can’t take away the Kaepernick from the 49ers it seems.
Threats were issued by Trump’s administration that action would be taken if the anthem was not respected. Trump even going as far as to say that any player kneeling during the anthem should be “fired” in true apprentice fashion. Although the venom from the White House was coming in thick and fast, the league appeared almost to double down on its support for players to be able to enjoy freedom of expression and fight for the change they desired. Goodell, a painful robot-like character, even managed some human emotions when defending the players in the face of national outrage. Over 200 players decided to take a knee after Trump’s tirade, with some teams linking arms and others staying in the locker room with a real sense of unity and respect across the organisation. Nothing to see here then, right?
Cue the over-aged, bleached white, wrinkled prunes of owners who decided that freedom of expression can only be supported so long as business interests are not being damaged. Sponsors began to ask questions about patriotism, some fans began to complain about damaging the franchise reputation and others belong to the same line of thought as President Trump. The topic of protesting during the national anthem it appears is here to stay.
A vote was scheduled for the off-season before the 2018/19 season, surely all the owners, players and fans could have a say in what was the best route forward for all parties involved. This was not to be the case. The decision was made by the 32 team owners that any player found to be kneeling on the field during the anthem would have their team fined as a result with scope for franchise punishments if deemed fit for the player. This decision was made without consulting the NFLPA union or individual players directly regarding the rule change and vote. The only concession being offered is to remain in the dressing room if you do not wish to stand.
There is something historically chilling about old white men instructing young black athletes on how to behave and what is appropriate conduct. Undertones of ‘this is not your America’ are prevalent here. There has never been any disrespect intended towards the American flag or the nation by the players involved. There is a difference between longing for a better America that represents the constitution and being disrespectful. The NFL has crumbled to corporate pressure and the pressure of a nasty pocket of bigoted supporters that cannot pull the wool from their eyes to see the institutional racism that their country represents. All but one of the owners opted to abstain – Jed York of the 49ers, who stated he wants his players to know he has their back. Jets owner Christopher Johnson also stated that he would pay all of the players fines if they wished to continue to kneel as a protest.
The NFL does what most large corporations do – throw money at charities and organisations that tackle social injustice, but rarely if ever demonstrate a willingness to speak out themselves. Fans with a sensibility and a care for others must stand up and be counted. It is a battle to follow a sport that treats its young black athletes as tools and not people. What many forget is that although many of these players are now immensely rich, they often have come from extremely impoverished backgrounds and to deny them the right to stand up (or kneel down!) for the murdering of members of their community without impunity is an extremely dangerous path to take.
Many claim the NFL’s ratings are down because of this scandal, however, I would argue it has been because the league is so toothless. If the league stood by their players, supported Kaepernick, and allowed people of status to use that status for meaningful change from the offset, then there would be no controversy. By making this decision, all the league has done is create confusion. Goodell’s statement was neither support nor condemnation for kneeling but was a bow to those in power in Washington.