When the call came during the NFL’s 2017 preseason to boycott the league for its failure to hire Colin Kaepernick, it wasn’t difficult for me to sign on. I had already boycotted the NFL the previous season, primarily for its dubious officiating and allegations that the success of some teams was due to cheating.
Still, I’ll admit, I did check the scores and standings throughout that season, as well as listen to commentary from sports analysts.
But the Kaepernick boycott was different. Not only were supporters supposed to avoid watching or attending NFL games, they were also supposed to ignore all news about the season. This, for me, was initially difficult to do. The NFL, after all, like many enterprises, thrives on addiction; therefore, the temptation to read about how certain teams and players were doing was omnipresent.
As time went on, however, not only did this temptation abate, I also noticed that I actually felt a peculiar sense of freedom. So many people (to varying degrees) live vicariously through the success of their favorite teams and/or players, and I was no exception. What the boycott did was awaken in me something that should have been obvious all along: The time and energy spent pursuing vicarious accomplishments is wasteful and counterproductive to working towards achieving personal goals.
I did, however, keep up on the news about Kaepernick, and the stories about how, while quarterback after quarterback was lost to injury, teams still came up with any pathetic excuse they could to not hire him, or even give him a try out, oftentimes tanking their entire seasons in the process.
This was disappointing, given that I had believed the NFL, unlike NASCAR or the NHL, did not subliminally exploit racism to appeal to its fans. But the treatment of Kaepernick shattered this belief and exposed the virulent racism and depths of mendacity subscribed to by many NFL owners, executives, and coaches.
I also noticed how this past season exposed some of the issues I discussed in two previous Pravda.Ru articles: Why Black Lives Matter Matters (February 23, 2016) and America’s Judases (August 28, 2017).
In my Black Lives Matter article, I explained how easily groups that advocate for social change can be fractured, and destroyed, by factionalism and splintering, while, in my Judases article, I discussed how some former NFL players, a few with their own histories of activism, were now condemning Kaepernick for protesting during the national anthem.
So it wasn’t surprising when Scott Davis of Business Insider reported how an unnamed NFL owner was quoted as saying, “The players had real leverage, but we knew we could sit back and watch them implode.”
And implode they did. A “Players Coalition,” led by Malcolm Jenkins, basically excluded Kaepernick from any negotiations with the NFL and ultimately accepted “thirty pieces of silver” by agreeing to end their anthem protests in exchange for 89 million dollars in financial donations the NFL would make to various social causes over the next seven years.
According to an article by Jemele Hill in The Undefeated, Jenkins defended his actions by claiming that there had to be an “endgame,” to the anthem protests, and that, in addition to the money, the NFL had also agreed to “give the players a platform during the playoffs and the Super Bowl to create a social justice campaign . . .”
Critics, however, have noted that Jenkins also owns five pizza franchises in a company whose CEO blamed declining sales on the anthem protests. In addition, while Jenkins’s accommodationism might bring some short-term satisfaction, what he, and the “Players Coalition,” did was destroy any possibility of similar protests in the future.
First, by refusing to insist that the ban on Kaepernick be lifted, this “Coalition” basically gave the NFL unbridled power to ban any player who even considers advocating for causes that are anathema to the NFL; Second, even after these financial donations are completed, this power to ban will endure, ensuring that no player or players’ group will ever again be in a position to obtain similar contributions from the NFL; Third, the NFL season is now over (and the media made a point of noting that no players protested during the Super Bowl), so this “platform” Jenkins praised is now closed, and it’s back to business as usual; Finally, Roger Goodell and the NFL owners graphically demonstrated that they don’t give a damn about the players, or social injustice, since the league recently signed a 3.3 billion dollar deal to broadcast Thursday Night Football for the next five years, despite the fact that, according to Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune, Thursday night games are when most player injuries occur.
It is not difficult to discern the impact of Jenkin’s agreement, and how it is designed to essentially erase Kaepernick from the NFL and the public’s collective memory. The NFL Players Association “Community MVP” award (that Kaepernick was nominated for) and the “Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year” award (for which he wasn’t nominated, but Jenkins was) went to two white players—Chris Long (who some tried to portray as the “anti-Kaepernick”) and J.J. Watt respectively. While this article in no way intends to diminish the good these two players did, it should be noted that both of them raised and/or donated money to support relatively “safe” causes that didn’t offend the NFL hierarchy.
Also, as Jack London once said, “A bone to a dog is not charity. Charity is sharing a bone with a dog when you’re just as hungry as the dog.” Long and Watt are still employed by the NFL and drawing a salary, while Kaepernick, despite being unemployed, donated one million dollars of his own money to support numerous causes.
In my article, Support Racism: Watch the NFL (November 19, 2017), I argued that the NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick could provide the incentive for the creation of a new league—“a league that could also care about social injustice and treat players with dignity, instead of like ‘inmates’ to be concussed and crippled for the enrichment of [team owners].”
Well, as the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it,” or, in this case, you might get half of it—the half you don’t want. There may soon be a “new” league, but it is doubtful it will care about social injustice or the dignity and health of its players.
Vince McMahon, majority owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), is endeavoring to reboot the XFL. One of McMahon’s first announcements was that a rule might be implemented requiring players to stand for the national anthem: a rule undoubtedly motivated—and I apologize for expressing this bluntly—by his desire to kiss the ass of Donald Trump (a vociferous critic of the NFL protests), especially since McMahon’s wife Linda works for Trump as administrator of the Small Business Administration.
What makes this reboot particularly disconcerting is, according to Wrestling Online, a little over a decade ago several athletes, including some WWE stars, were named in an investigation into steroid abuse, and there have been allegations about the abuse of painkillers as well. Although the WWE has implemented a “wellness program” to purportedly combat these issues, complaints still arise about wrestlers feeling pressured to perform while injured.
So the question is, if these pressures to perform while injured are present in what has been acknowledged as scripted entertainment, how will they potentially play out in the unscripted violence of professional football?
On January 18, 2018, CNN reported that a study by Dr. Lee Goldstein and other researchers had concluded that CTE, a debilitating brain condition that has affected several former football players (and sometimes resulted in suicide) may actually be caused by “repetitive hits to the head,” even when these hits do not result in a concussion. Needless to say, this study renders the NFL’s propaganda-driven “concussion protocols” useless, and any expansion of professional football, both within and outside the NFL, will only multiply the number of players who could potentially suffer from CTE.
And it is pure folly to think that the United States Congress will take any action to curtail this devastation. A few years ago, the United States Supreme Court legalized political bribery (if it’s done in an indirect way), and America’s football machine has plenty of money to spread around.
Whether one agrees with this analogy or not, Kaepernick’s activism has been compared to Muhammad Ali’s. Several years ago, I and a group of my friends had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with Mr. Ali, and, while it is certainly an experience I will never forget, at the time this meeting occurred his illness had progressed to the stage that his once powerful voice was now difficult to understand. Some have argued that this illness was exacerbated, or perhaps even caused, by the blows he took to the head during his boxing career.
So, from a fairness standpoint, I believe it is manifestly unjust for Kaepernick to be denied an opportunity to play professional football because of his protests against police brutality and racial injustice. But from a pragmatic perspective, I realize that, if he plays again, it might increase the risk of his voice also being silenced.
There are two quotes attributed to George Orwell that are not only relevant to Kaepernick’s protest, but to the state of America’s political climate as well. The first is, “Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” and the second states that, “In times of universal deceit, the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
Sometimes it takes a revolutionary act, like kneeling in protest in front of an audience of millions, to reveal this truth, expose this deceit, and tell people what they don’t want to hear.
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru