Kaepernick's Incomplete Pass On Race Sends NFL Into Scramble Mode
Colin Kaepernick has had a fit of conscience. The struggling San Francisco 49ers quarterback has decided he will stand up by sitting down during the national anthem in protest of a grab bag of Black Lives Matter grievances. Specifically, Kaepernick (who is a man of colour) thinks police are wantonly murdering blacks in America.
Quoth Kaepernick: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Leaving aside its political merits for a moment, the statement is bold on a couple of fronts. First, Kaepernick is about this far (squeeze your fingers together) to becoming a former NFL QB. After a brilliant start to his career in San Fran he’s been the football equivalent of BLM: All show and no go. Just as BLM’s claims of Hands Up, Don’t Shoot from the 2015 Ferguson, Missouri, riots were found to be baseless, Kaepernick’s claim to being a transformational QB has been taken into custody on the grounds of fraud.
Rumours were already rife that he will be cut by the Niners this season unless he rediscovers his muse behind centre. It would seem this might be a time to keep a low profile. Using your tenuous public profile to go on a political rant is hardly conducive to job security. In that vein, you have to give Kaepernick some grudging respect for saying this is the hill he wishes to die upon.
The more far-reaching implication of Kaepernick’s snit-fit about the land that has given him a platform to bloviate is the reaction of the NFL and his team, the 49ers. “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem,” Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications said in response to anger at Kaepernick.
His team, which represents perhaps the most liberal city in North America, similarly pulled back on its unhappiness. "The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pregame ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
So the NFL has gone all first Amendment on Kaepernick. What makes this freedom of expression jag amusing is that, while sitting out the anthem is a choice, rolling down your socks, having an untucked jersey or personal messages of any kind on your uniform are verboten in the NFL. If you defy the NFL dress code you will be fined. So while speech is free, sloppiness can cost you plenty. Go figure.
It will be interesting to see if this wrist tap satisfies the public mood. With about 80 percent of its players being black, the NFL doesn’t want to provoke them by hammering Kaepernick’s comments. On the other hand, coming down too lightly on the Niners’ QB could inflame the ticket-buying public or those who buy the lucrative NFL TV cable packages— who correspond more to the 73 percent white population of America. (Already San Francisco police have demanded Kaepernick apologize for demonizing cops with a murder charge.)
The NFL has had a tin ear for some time near on social matters, and this too could be another example where labour peace does not equate with customer satisfaction. You only has to look at social media and fellow NFL players who are less than accepting of Kaepernick’s aligning himself with the black grievance movement. While most players respected his right to shoot off his mouth, none of the players who went public supported his opinion. (Likely for the reasons stated above about job security.)
Social media, which can always be counted on to turn a spark into an inferno, was ablaze with condemnation for Kaepernick. Some came from 49er fans who are disgruntled that he’s playing like a turkey and costing them a chance to win. Others came from the conservative right, which equates the anthem and the flag with the sacrifices made by others to give Kaepernick his bully pulpit. And yet more came from people are certifiably nuts.
Perhaps the most succinct words on the subject— ones the NFL should observe— came from a black soldier interviewed by the Independent Journal Review. Dorian Majied, an Army Rangerwho served two terms in the middle east, was asked what he thought of Kaepernick using an interview with an NFL writer to critique race relations in America.
Replied Maijed: “He could write his congressman, he could petition, he could picket, he could join the service and actually fight for the rights he seems to think are not offered to him; his sitting through the National Anthem was a lazy lack of will and brain power.
“He made valid points, I’m not ignoring that there are still issues with race in America. However, he is ignoring the positive ideals of America that every colored person who has ever served, fought–while some died–for, by refusing to stand. Proper action is exactly that, action, not the inaction of not standing because he couldn’t think of a better way to protest.”
We’ll take that as a No from Sergeant Majied. And a good luck to Colin Kaepernick in his new career as a social warrior. Looks like he’s talked himself out of the NFL.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).