“It’s about time.”
That was my reaction to the great Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham’s recent declaration that she would no longer watch the National Football League in the aftermath of the screwjob the league has apparently pulled on Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers star who’s being treated like a 1950s Hollywood screenwriter accused of Communist sympathies:
Football brought me closer to my father and uncle and aunt who loved the game, and after church, it was always the joyful noise of Sundays in our household. I quickly fell for the speed, swagger, and, yes, the violence of the game.
Yet I haven’t seen any pre-season games, don’t know the Opening Day matchup on Sept. 7, or early predictions on Super Bowl favorites. I can no longer endorse a financially risk-averse league that only pretends to care about the long-term health of its players. Nor can I endorse the team owners who’ve blacklisted Colin Kaepernick for having refused last season to stand during the national anthem, in a silent protest against racial injustice and police violence.
Formerly with the San Francisco 49ers, the free agent quarterback remains unsigned. In the off-season, more than 20 other quarterbacks, some downright laughable, were signed by NFL franchises as starters or backups. Yet not a single team could find a place for the only signal caller among available QBs who has actually led his team to a Super Bowl.
Kaepernick has supporters. Hundreds protested outside of NFL headquarters recently, and other players are continuing his pregame protests. Yet NBC Sports’ Mike Florio calls Kaepernick the “most polarizing player in the NFL, even though he’s not in the NFL.” Former fellow QB Michael Vick, a convicted dog killer who was quickly welcomed back into the league after serving time, even suggested Kaepernick cut his hair and “go clean cut” to be more appealing to teams. This was nothing more than a dog whistle about black respectability — an insinuation that Kaepernick’s mighty Afro intimidates white people.
I’m among those who believe some owners are quietly colluding against Kaepernick as punishment for a political stance openly criticized by President Trump, who has ties to NFL figures. His inauguration committee received millions from team owners, including Pats head honcho Robert Kraft, who recently gave Trump a Super Bowl ring.
Jesse Jackson has also suggested that the NFL has it in for Kaepernick. Assuming arguendo that this is true, shouldn’t the rest of America have it in for the NFL?
What, exactly, are pro football’s redeeming qualities, anyway? What does American society gain by having young men smash their brains into incoherence? Where is the art in football? There’s an art, a skill, a beauty to baseball, to basketball, to hockey. Football?
What apparently happened to Kaepernick is but the latest example of the sleaziness of American pro football–sleaziness that has gone back decades:
The NFL has a history of minimal tolerance for players who want to test its boundaries. The first player to face an alleged blackball was Bill Radovich, a Detroit Lions offensive lineman who returned from World War II and wanted to play closer to his cancer-stricken father in California. When he opted out of his contract, he was warned he would never play another down in the league—and he didn’t. (Radovich sued the league on antitrust grounds and won.) Years after NBA and MLB players had earned free agency rights, the NFL went to federal court in the early 1990s to block its own players from being able to determine their value on the open market (the league lost).
If Kaepernick never plays another game in the NFL again, it will be both a tragedy and an event that could possibly prevent further tragedies. Perhaps other young athletes will think twice about wanting to pursue a career in a league that will place a muzzle over their mouths–and put a premature end to their playing days–if they dare to speak up for justice. (“Do you now or have your ever believed that black lives matter?”) Perhaps other young athletes will think twice about wanting to pursue a career in a league that cares little about their well-being.
As for fervent fans of this loathsome league, perhaps more of them will follow Graham’s lead:
I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling with what it means to be a football fan these days, and for many their affection for the game will overrule any nagging doubts. For me, I can no longer justify my love for a sport that disrespects the players who have helped make this league the cultural behemoth that it is.
Giving up my football fandom won’t be easy. It’s been in my life as long as I can remember, and evokes warm memories of games watched with family members no longer here. Certainly, my abandonment of the sport won’t get Kaepernick a roster spot, force officials to take seriously its concussion protocol, or matter one iota to the league’s bottomless revenue, but I’ll no longer take part in supporting its hypocrisies. Autumn won’t be the same without football. Still, at least my Sundays — and my conscience — will now be clear.
“Are you ready for some football?” After the controversy over concussions and Kaepernick, all of America should say, loudly and firmly, “Hell no!”