Kaepernick workout reveals NFL’s continued hypocrisy

For decades, the NFL was seen as a unifying force in America. Different people with different backgrounds could root for their favorite team alongside each other. That narrative came crashing down in 2016, when someone decided to mix sports and politics. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, decided he wanted to take a stand— by kneeling. As the national anthem began to play before a 2016 preseason game, Kaepernick took a knee instead of standing with his hand over his heart. Afterwards, he said in an interview, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color” (The Undefeated, “Colin Kaepernick Protests Anthem Over Treatment of Minorities” 08.27.2016).

The protest provoked backlash and commentary from all corners of the league, as many people saw the protest as disrespectful to the military. Owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, said any player who protested would be benched and the owner of the Houston Texans, Bob McNair, disturbingly compared the protests to “inmates running the prison” (Vox, “Two Years of NFL Protests Explained” 09.04.2018). The reference paints a pretty clear picture of how the NFL owners (all but two of whom are white) view the players (70 percent of whom are Black). Donald Trump also chimed in at a rally: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now’” (CBS, “Donald Trump: NFL Should Have Suspended Colin Kaepernick for Kneeling” 10.12.2017). To the owners, players are disposable, and if any one of the “inmates” tries to shake things up, they must be silenced.

Coming off a 2016 season in which he posted solid stats (16 TD, 4 INT), Kaepernick became a free agent by opting out of his contract after he was told the 49ers were going to release him (ESPN, “If Colin Kaepernick didn’t opt out 49ers would have released QB” 03.02.2017). He immediately looked to sign elsewhere, but three years later, remains unsigned. Kaepernick wasn’t even granted a tryout until Nov. 12 of this year, when the NFL puzzlingly announced a tryout for Colin Kaepernick (where he would throw passes and practice in front of NFL scouts), taking place five days later on a Saturday (Slate, “Is the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick Workout a Sham?” 11.12.2019). Normally, individual teams will invite a free agent player for a workout on a Tuesday, rather than the league itself inviting them on a Saturday (when all the teams are busy preparing for games the next day and most scouts are watching college games).

The suspicious circumstances of this workout, along with the NFL’s desire to show that they did not, in fact, blackball Kaepernick, led many to suspect that the workout was a sham, just a PR stunt. This makes sense considering Kaepernick had only two options, neither of which were advantageous to him. One: He declined the workout and the NFL could say that they gave him a chance but he just doesn’t want to play. Two: He went to the workout and was not signed, regardless of how well he played (I believe that the NFL doesn’t want him to ever play again, and that this workout is just to get critics off their backs). However, Kaepernick agreed to attend, while his lawyers negotiated the terms of the workout with the NFL during the week.

But, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Kaepernick and his team raised concerns about the waiver he was being asked to sign. They worried that by signing he may be waiving his right to take the NFL to court for discrimination, and did not like that the NFL planned to film the workout with their own camera crew and forbid media access. Kaepernick wanted the workout to be as public as possible, with full media access and a livestream, to ensure that there was no funny business or selective editing on the workout tapes. The NFL would not oblige this request, so Kaepernick decided to hold his own workout instead. His workout took place not far from the NFLs, and he invited all teams to send scouts. He also allowed full media access and the event was live streamed, but far fewer scouts attended and as of the time I am writing this, he has not been signed by a team (USA Today, “Legalese, mistrust and late negotiating: How Colin Kaepernick and NFL broke apart on workout” 11.23.2019). The NFL never had any intention of giving Kaepernick a fair shot. He was in a lose-lose situation, unable to decline the workout without hurting his credibility and unable to attend the workout because of the unfair rules.

I, and many others, believe that the NFL owners decided they were not going to sign Kaepernick, not because he wasn’t good enough, but because they didn’t like what he was protesting. While many people have tried to defend the NFL by saying “sports should be a break from politics,” I would argue that there are lots of people in this country who are not privileged enough to “take a break” from politics because it shapes every day of their lives. Politics and sports have always been mixed. Remember Jackie Robinson? Or Muhammad Ali? These men are universally loved by Americans now but were almost universally hated back when they were pushing the envelope and fighting for change. People just choose to ignore this.

The NFL owners are hypocritical when determining what kind of a person they want in their league. They will go on about not wanting to deal with controversies, but will sign players like Tyreek Hill, who was arrested for and pleaded guilty to strangling and punching his pregnant girlfriend, or Kareem Hunt, who was caught on tape assaulting a woman (For The Win, “The Chiefs cut Kareem Hunt, but what about Tyreek Hill?” 12.03.2018). Although Hunt was initially released by the Chiefs, as of writing this, both he and Hill are currently playing in the NFL. Step out of line and speak up just a little bit, and you will be thrown by the wayside with little or no penalty to the teams who don’t have to guarantee your contract. But if you assault people? As long as you are still useful to the owners, they will keep you around. They are using their platform to silence those who disagree with them.

The NFL says that players should just stick to football. A more accurate statement would be that players who disagree with the owners should stick to football. The NFL is hypocritical and a barrier to social justice, but we, the fans, might be the real problem. We continue to support a league that suppresses the voices of its employees and refuses to condemn violent criminals. I am tired of it, so I am speaking out.

Colin Kaepernick is being cheated and the 32 NFL owners are running a league that inhibits racial equality as well as other progressive sentiments.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *