Colin Kaepernick Should Never Play for the NFL Again
The NFL drove Colin Kaepernick out of their league. He is good enough for the NFL, but is the league good enough for him?
I grew up loving football. One Christmas, my parents gave me a ball signed by Lou Groza. I had no idea who he was, but it didn’t matter. Football had hooked me.
Before I could ride a bicycle, there was football. I knew who Johnny Unitas was before I could spell my name.
My earliest memory of the game is of my Father sitting me in a tiny wooden chair. He pointed out a man on television that no one seemed able to bring down. “That’s Jim Brown,” he said, “the best football player that ever lived.”
In my mind’s eye, I can still see the grainy images moving across the screen. As time went by, my three brothers and I would play backyard football games. We would stuff dirty clothes under our t-shirts, creating makeshift shoulder pads. We provided imaginary commentary as we played: “It’s Bob Hayes to the thirty, the twenty, the ten, TOUCHDOWN!”
I discovered the imperfection of the game at a family gathering one day in the 1960s. After our meal, the adults gathered around the television to watch as our Arkansas Razorbacks played LSU.
Although I was too young to know all the rules, I knew enough to recognize that our team, the Razorbacks, had just scored. I cheered at the top of my voice, as any loyal fan would.
Everyone in the room stared at me in stony silence.
That is when it dawned on me that everyone, my mom and dad, my aunts and uncles, was cheering against our home team. An uncle took me aside to explain.
Arkansas was one of the last major college football teams without a single Black player. That is why my relatives cheered for the other side that day.
I was no longer an NFL fan when Colin Kaepernick first kneeled in protest. I’d once relished seeing players get ‘jacked up.’ But now, the sight of a man collapsing on the field from a well-timed hit brought forth images of future suicide and early death.
I watched as the NFL drove Kaepernick away while less capable quarterbacks played on hardened my conviction. Soon, the game that once absorbed entire Sundays became irrelevant. The day I saw the latest football video game and no longer recognized the star player, I knew our breakup was complete.
Years later, I watched with the rest of America as, week after week, one Black life after another died at the hands of police. As diverse multitudes protested their brutality, the police responded with more violence, seemingly oblivious to the cameras around them.
As I watched, the thought hit me, like a bolt of lightning: Isn’t this why Kaepernick kneeled? Wasn’t this why he sacrificed his NFL career? Surely, no one could doubt him now, I thought. When I asked an obvious question, I already knew its answer.
Inevitably, bandwagon riders arrived to capitalize on what was now an unstoppable force. They surfed the wave of change, lest they fall victim to its undertow.
Astonished corporations suddenly realized their racism. Until now, they were unaware of their perpetuation of the Lost Cause, ignorant to the fact that their avatars portrayed a time ‘when America was great.’
They wanted me to know they were on my side now, that people like me mattered to them. Even the apps on my smartphone let me know they were with me.
And all of them said they were very sorry.
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They were sorry about the Mammy that graced their syrup bottles for all those years. They felt awful that a kindly old Negro appeared on their boxes of rice for so long. They told me the Confederate flag wavers at their events did not represent them.
I yearned for the NFL to acknowledge its miscalculation. Now that things were different, I waited for a sign of Kaepernick’s return to football. Because when he came back, so could I. That youngster with the makeshift shoulder pads could watch the game he loved once again. It would be hard, but he would learn the names of the new players. He would rekindle his Sunday romance.
Then came the announcement:
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.
“We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country. Without black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff.” — Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner
The media was beside itself with praise for the NFL. For Roger Goodell’s Come To Jesus moment. I was not.
I felt the league only reconsidered its stance after weeks of nationwide protests, plus complaints from several star players. Like the corporations that altered their brands, it was a marketing decision. Roger Goodell’s performance was more of a public relations statement than an apology.
How do I know this? I know it because Goodell never said Kaepernick’s name.
As for the players that called the NFL out, they have a right to be angry. But you know what? They still have their jobs. Colin Kaepernick does not. If anything, the carefully-crafted contrition event from Goodell’s basement had the opposite effect on me.
Apologies are a funny thing. If not directed to the person you’ve wronged, it is not an apology at all — it is an excuse filled with empty words. The NFL owed an apology, not to unnamed players in the league, but the target of their incorrect decision.
The NFL owes Colin Kaepernick a public apology. Full stop.
He used his platform to shine a light on racial inequality and police brutality, and for his trouble, his motives questioned. He tried to warn us, but we did not listen. If we had, perhaps some of the dead would be alive. Maybe things would be different.
Stripped of his ability to earn a living for sounding the alarm, Kaepernick is like Muhammad Ali before him. Unlike The Greatest, Kaepernick did not put on a show. He did not complain loudly to the media. There were no interviews. Instead, he tried to address the inequities that cost him his career.
Sure, the NFL may relent and give Colin Kaepernick a job. After all, even the person most responsible for his unemployment, the President, says they should. The NFL knows America loves a comeback story, the rise after the proverbial fall. Kaepernick would play the part of the repentant servant, punished for being bold enough to ask why, with the NFL as the benevolent master, taking pity on their upstart hireling.
But what is the upside for Colin Kaepernick? We all know how his comeback story will end. One fumble, one errant pass, and the whispers will begin. Why did the NFL take him back? Was he ever that good in the first place?
I realize now the NFL has not changed and probably never will. The reunion I longed for will never happen. As much as I wanted to, I can’t rekindle the spark that started this love affair. I will watch my first a NASCAR race before I watch the NFL again.
As for Colin Kaepernick? The NFL doesn’t deserve him. He is too good for them. Perhaps none of us deserve a guy like him. One thing I know for sure, the NFL is not worthy.
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