Kaepernick won, and good for him
And 2 other takeaways from the settlement
The Colin Kaepernick saga took an interesting turn last week.
First, a sports apparel store closed after boycotting Nike all football season. Recall that Colin Kaepernick did a commercial for Nike at the beginning of the season. This angered the owner, who felt Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem before games in 2016 was an affront to the military, even though his protest had to do with police violence toward African-Americans and he may have taken umbrage to the line “land of the free.”
I’m trying to think of an analogy, but a sports apparel store that doesn’t carry Nike is like… a sports apparel store that doesn’t carry Nike. Of course it couldn’t last.
For as much as we blame “money” for all of society’s ills, the fact is it’s the glue that bonds society when politics and religion rip it apart. The ethical thing for a business owner is to put profits over his personal principles by serving his customers. This owner failed to do that and manifestly deserved what he got, and I hope that any employees he had will find better jobs and prosper under more competent employers.
Then we learned that the new minor-league Alliance of American Football had approached Kaepernick about making a comeback. He asked for $20 million when the schedule is ten games. When I learned that I thought he just didn’t want to play football anymore.
He was approached by the AAF last summer, so Kaepernick may have already had his Nike deal and was anticipating a lucrative settlement for the NFL. Playing football had to be worth his time.
Later in the day, the other shoe dropped: Kaepernick reached a settlement with the NFL in his collusion lawsuit. Fair speculation is that the deal, with fellow plaintiff Eric Reid, could be as high as $100 million. I have three takeaways.
First, the NFL made the deal to protect the owners from things other than collusion. I don’t believe any compelling evidence of collusion among the owners exists. Each had a plausible explanation that Kaepernick wasn’t a fit for their team for competitive or business reasons. It boils down to: he wasn’t good enough to be worth the circus around him.
But, we all knew Kaepernick was out of the league when worse quarterbacks were on rosters. Kaepernick’s skills are not prototypical, and he was only good when the team around him was great, but his experience had to account for something. It did seem like he was being punished for his politics in a league that constantly gives “second chances” to women-beaters and other criminals.
What this came down to was the owners, each technically innocent of collusion, didn’t want embarrassing information to come out in the process of discovery. I’m thinking of Brown’s owner Jimmy Haslam. In last month’s Seth Wickersham story on him, we learn Haslam nicknamed former General Manager Sashi Brown “Obama” because he was African-American, “calm, eloquent and handsome and had graduated from Harvard Law School:”
Haslam laughed at the nickname, but it offended many in the building as racial stereotyping — a sentiment that became even more amplified in 2018 after a secret recording of Mark Hazelwood, a person close to Haslam and a former president at Pilot [the company Haslam’s family owned], was made public. On the recording, Hazelwood used a racial slur to describe football fans in a meeting of Pilot executives at which Haslam said he wasn’t present.
The nickname doesn’t mean Haslam is a racist, but it does reflect cluelessness and insensitivity. Imagine what other racially- and/or politically-charged emails, texts, and recordings could be discovered among the 30 other billionaire white NFL owners.
When L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was recorded making racist remarks, the NBA forced him out of the league. Commissioner Adam Silver knew that an openly racist owner could not be tolerated in a league of mostly African-American players.
Like the NBA, most NFL players are African-American. If a Sterling-like revelation came out, or two or three or four of them, that would be disastrous to say the least. There’s no amount the NFL wouldn’t pay to prevent it.
Second, I hate to admit this, but egad, what if The Flag really is an angry god? Consider that the one year Colin played football while kneeling during the National Anthem, his 49ers went 1–15. And a thought came to me which I posted on Facebook:
Is this mockery of the elevation of American nationalism to a religion, or is this a threat?
But, seriously, the most important takeaway is, Kaepernick won. For himself and for other players.
As background: I heard a rumor that when the openly-gay Michael Sam was eligible for the NFL draft in 2014, and it was the last round, the Rams did a “favor” for the NFL and drafted him. In other words, a secret deal may have been made. Sam was a great college player, but not a good enough athlete for the NFL. At the time, however, the NFL would have faced a public-relations nightmare if the first openly-gay college player with Sam’s All-America credentials hadn’t been drafted.
Kaepernick became a PR problem for the NFL when he went unsigned, and the NFL doesn’t want this headache again. It doesn’t want to make payout after payout to unpopular players with unpopular beliefs who can’t find a job. If anything, they’ll collude to keep such players employed as long as they can.
The next Kaepernick will not be the next Kaepernick. That’s a victory for Kaepernick and the next Kaepernick.
Other players will feel free to speak out about issues they care about, without fear of losing their career. That was the victory Kaepernick won for himself and for NFL players.
And it’s pretty significant.