By ERNIE GOTTA
Thousands of people are pledging to boycott the NFL this year under the banner #NoKaepernickNoNFL. Not since Mohammed Ali has a professional athlete had such a political impact on American culture. Despite overwhelming support for the embattled player, owners of every football team have blacklisted the activist/athlete for his public opposition to oppression of the Black community. NFL owners are deliberately signing quarterbacks with lower ratings to avoid hiring Colin Kaepernick.
Almost a year after Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem, his protest is still making headlines. On Aug. 30, Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, announced to the press that Kaepernick was being blackballed for his protest. On Aug. 24, over 1000 people gathered outside NFL headquarters to support Kaepernick. Earlier in August, 100 mostly Black police officers, from New York City’s notoriously brutal police department known for it racist “stop and frisk” policies, broke ranks to hold a press-conference supporting Colin Kaepernick.
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and other players are continuing Kaepernick’s protest by taking a knee during the National Anthem and asking white players to join them. Thirteen players on the Cleveland Browns huddled together taking a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick during a preseason game.
NFL owners recognize the danger in his protest. They want gladiators, they want their players to be seen and not heard. What’s next? Will players start questioning the effects of concussions on post-career brain damage? The suicide of Junior Seau, one of the great defensive linebackers, who played with an incomparable passion, brought Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) a degenerative disease brought on by repeated concussions, to the mainstream consciousness. It’s not a far leap in logic to say that NFL players fighting for social justice will also demand better safety conditions on the job. That’s just one example where there is potential to cut into the owner’s profits.
To halt the wild popularity of Kaepernick’s influence the owners brought out big names from football’s recent past—retired stars Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, and Tiki Barber—to give Kaepernick suggestions on how he might return to the NFL. They said, “Cut your hair,” “Honor the flag,” “Get away from that nonsense.” Kaepernick has maintained his principles despite a rush of abuse. In response, he fired back, “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed.”
Kaepernick’s example poses a threat because it also undermines the militaristic and patriotic spectacles created during major sporting events. These spectacles are an important part of legitimizing U.S. wars and occupations abroad. The Department of Defense has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on paid patriotic displays. It’s easy money for the owners.
Kaepernick is in the company of greats like Jackie Robinson, Mohammed Ali, John Carlos, and Mohamed Abdul Rauf. All were famous athletes who protested during the National Anthem to show their solidarity with those suffering under the repressive might of the U.S. capitalist class.
When Kaepernick started his protest during “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 2016, it sparked a season of solidarity among young athletes. Every day, news stories broke about high school soccer, football, volleyball, and basketball ball teams following Kaepernick’s lead. Kaepernick has since continued to be active holding “Know Your Rights” workshops for youth of color and donating $700K in seven months to organizations fighting for social justice.
He’s inspiring a young generation of athletes to open their eyes to more than what they see on the field. Most importantly, he is setting an example by taking a principled stand for social justice above lucrative contracts and endorsement deals. Give Kaepernick a fair chance on the field and take him off the blacklist for his political beliefs!