Sunday, March 26, 2017

No Wins: Money, Power, And Disrespect

I don't care if Colin Kaepernick ever plays another game in the NFL! Don't get it twisted: I'm deeply troubled by the prospect of a law abiding citizen having his dream stripped from him for making a political stand about an issue that's important to millions of Americans, but I don't care if he ever plays again. Colin is trying to get a job from a league that prefers "the help" be subservient rather than independent. His crime was far more egregious than not standing for a flag and a song: Colin is being punished for disrupting the herd. The moment he didn't kowtow to the wishes of the league and end his protest he became a nuisance, but when he inspired others to protest he became an enemy.

I had close to 1,000 words written juxtaposing the way NFL owners and general managers have publicly treated players with domestic violence, assault, and rape arrests versus the way some of them have spoken on and off the record about Colin Kaepernick's National Anthem protest, but the truth is: that's a false dichotomy. Rapist and domestic abusers are welcomed back to the NFL because their crimes don't challenge the authority of the league. When a player, irrespective of race, beats a woman, she's the victim. When Colin and the players who joined him in protest defied the wishes of the commissioner and their owners, the league was the victim. Power doesn't like to be disrespected. I don't believe all of the owners refusing to sign a quarterback who can help their team win are racists: I'm sure some just really love money and aren't willing to risk losing any for a few more wins. What does the owner of a 4-12 team gain by signing a guy who gets them to 7-9 if they miss the playoffs, their team faces boycotts from "real Americans", and they are at the center of weekly tweets from the petulant child who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 4 days a week?     

What we're seeing is the NFL equivalence of an unruly slave being beaten in public to send a message to the rest of the plantation. I know some #wypipo get upset when anyone references slavery, or compares athletes to slaves, but William C. Rhoden hit the nail on the head in his 2006 book Forty Million Dollar Slaves when he wrote, "Black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built." There's a dynamic at play in sports and entertainment that rarely occurs in other fields: the "help" has the ability to become more famous and almost as powerful as their employers. There are very few owners in any professional league who are as popular as their star players. For every Mark Cuban or Jerry Jones there are 25 owners who could walk into a mall and not be noticed. In the trailer for the Justice League movie one of the characters asks Batman what his super power is; he responded, "I'm rich." Being rich is only a super power if people acquiesce to it. The moment the boss can't control you with money he/she can't control you at all. The NFL couldn't stand a dozen or more liberated men on each team. This wouldn't affect the product on the field, but it would challenge the hierarchy team sports thrive on. Colin has to be sacrificed to keep the rest of the league in line.   

Most quarterbacks hit their prime in their late 20's and early 30's, so there's a chance Kaepernick's best seasons are ahead of him. It's hard for me to believe that he will make it through the preseason without a contract, but stranger things have happened. We live in a country that prefers their protestors dead. Muhammad Ali died last year and America posthumously resurrected his legacy. Many of the same people who hate Muslims and protest movements for justice pretended to love a Muslim who inspired many to protest for justice. Colin upset a fragile subset of the American population; these are the people who throw tantrums when they hear traffic has been blocked by protestors, yet they ignore the reason for the protest. If Colin Kaepernick never throws another pass he has already solidified his place in American history. He was Black Lives Matter in front of the American people every week. He didn't ask for the attention his protest received. He didn't ask others to kneel in solidarity with him. Colin didn't talk about what he was doing until he was asked. He literally protested the way white people have told Black people to protest since the end of slavery; he proved to the world that there isn't an acceptable way to highlight racial disparities in our society. He forced Americans to go on the record about police brutality and race. I don't care if he ever plays again, because one day Americans will be forced to save face and pretend like they supported what he was doing. I hope he manages the money he's made responsibly: this could be the end of his lottery ticket.

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