I was exposed to the NFL in the early 1990’s. My mom’s boyfriend was a Washington Redskins fan because of the success of Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl. I became obsessed with the sport but Williams became an afterthought. I devoted eight years of my life competing in football in high school and in college.
But today my mind goes back to the significance of why my mom’s boyfriend watched NFL football. As an African-American male he was proud to witness the success of another African-American male competing in the best sports league in the most prestigious position. Today I’m also looking at the NFL through the lens of its treatment of another African-American quarterback and I’m no longer a fan.
Colin Kaepernick’s name is a lightning rod within the NFL and American culture. A mention of his name brings up the American flag and patriotism but rarely gets to the issue that drove Kaepernick to his knees–the death of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement. The same people that criticize Kaepernick’s silent protest also criticized the vociferous uprising that happened in cities like Baltimore. Many people don’t like how he protested but that’s the point of a protest–to make people feel the same discomfort one feels from injustices.
Colin Kaepernick is not being avoided because of a criminal record, an abusive incident, or drug charges. Throughout the years there have been multiple players with serious crimes in their past who were welcomed onto an NFL team. Was Colin’s protest so egregious that it is equal to these crimes? I don’t think that’s the case. I believe the incidents where NFL players hurt people are appalling to our society but Colin’s protest was offensive to many in our country. Teams hesitate to approach him because there is a large fan base who are personally offended by the act of one man. This reveals more about the moral compass of our culture than it says about the NFL. However, the NFL is stymied in their ability to view Kaepernick with objectivity because their filter is monetary impact more than moral courage.
I love this country and the value of democracy. Personally, I am offended by the confederate flag. As a black man I cannot disassociate the efforts of the people who marched to battle behind that flag during the Civil War. In this democratic country people have the right to place the image of this flag on their bumper or raise the flag from their home. Just don’t expect me to give you a hug when we first meet. There is more anger toward a man who knelt in front of the American flag than there is toward those who stand behind the confederate flag. But the issue with Colin Kaepernick has nothing to do with race just like the confederate flag and the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. Our country has the innate ability to shift people of color out of the conversation and focus on a different narrative.
People don’t have to agree with Colin. However, it’s very telling that the conversation around him has nothing to do with the lives of black people but everything to do with how he protested and if he is truly passionate about football. The same people who boldly speak against Kaepernick have yet to find the courage to speak as boldly against police brutality. As long as Kaepernick is absent from the NFL because of what he stands for, I will silently protest watching their product. My silent protest has nothing to do with the flag or Kaepernick’s knee and it has everything to do with the issue that Colin is standing for. The very issue that has disappeared from the conversation.
I know some will immediately respond with thoughts of black on black crime. This post is about one concern but I could write about the pain I feel for the murder rate, sex trafficking, and opiate overdoses in Baltimore. For now I’m focusing on this moral dilemma of why a person’s career is in jeopardy because he quietly knelt to bring attention to issues many of us quietly ignored.
“Something in human nature…gets contaminated with fear.”
-Branch Rickey, MLB owner who signed Jackie Robinson