Eight NFL quarterbacks were reported as injured after week 2 in the NFL season. The list of ailing quarterbacks included starters and backups. The day before the injured list of QBs was reported, a bunch of unnamed players on the offensively hapless Cincinnati Bengals supposedly demanded that the team sign Colin Kaepernick post haste to stop any further hemorrhaging of the offense before things got hopelessly out of hand. Then there was NFL icon Tom Brady, who backpedaled from an earlier “see no evil, hear no evil” stance on Kap and lustily cheer led him getting another shot in the NFL.
This is all part of the now almost ritual pattern from the moment Kap last laced up shoulder pads. The ritual goes like this. One NFL team owner or another will drop a hint that they might be interested in Kap. A pack of football analysts who back Kap’s NFL return will write yet another column or make a public quip that he should be in the NFL somewhere. There will be endless talk and speculation that given the beating NFL QBs take and the never-ending need to get some bodies in there to fill in for the slew of downed QBs, it’s inevitable that one of those bodies will be Kap. Then, finally, one NFL star player such as Brady or another will declare that Kap should be back in the NFL. To punctuate all the pro-Kap cheering, there’s an activist protest at some NFL game or another.
This is all great. The problem is Kap is still unemployed. And the bigger question, which it may be time to face, is the even more dreaded word with him: unemployable.
The start ― and really end ― point to make sense out of why a guy who’s got relatively good stats, played on a championship team, and by all counts is a quiet, unassuming, consummate team player is not just unemployed but seemingly unemployable in the NFL is Kaepernick. It’s not just that he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police abuse and racial injustice. Other NFL players have spoken candidly about racial discrimination and even police abuse. After Kap staged his protest, other NFL players knelt, sat on the bench, raised clinched fists, locked arms together and weren’t afraid to say just why they were staging their protests.
There has been absolutely no action taken against them. The NFL owners who have opened their mouth on the Kap situation have all been careful to say that they support his right and that of anyone else within and without the NFL to exercise their free speech right.
Kap, however, is different from any of them. He’s not just an athlete who’s making a political statement with his protest. He is a political athlete. There’s a huge difference. He put politics first, second and beyond, before football. He acted to back up his politics. This included donations to social and political causes, asserting his racial connect with African nations, and quickly tweeting strong words of support for Seattle Seahawks Michael Bennet’s charge of racially motivated police harassment and praise of ESPN sports host Jemelle Hill for lambasting Trump.
NFL owners can easily weather players and former players occasional blowing off steam about racial problems, the ever-present problem of concussions, and even the NFL’s greed in dealing with its hires, namely the players. However, what the NFL owners can’t stomach is a guy who puts politics above the game and is consistent in doing so. This is a threat that must be nipped in the bud. This is why Philadelphia Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, recently bloviated that he was a big backer of those who fight for social causes, just not one who has made that fight a part of their life and expect to play in the NFL at the same time.
The NFL is not, and never has been, a democracy. It’s a quasi-militaristic, top-down organization.
While Lurie may be a Democrat, he’s a rarity among the owners. They are mostly conservative Republicans, some very outspoken Republicans. In a real sense, Kap is being held captive not to the racism or petty whims of NFL owners, but to the NFL’s rigid, unbending and unyielding arrogance of power, insular structure and mindset that is virtually immune from any outside influence.
While the NFL doesn’t have the anti-trust exemption that MLB has, it hasn’t needed it to beat back the challenges. It has something even better. It has the deepest of deep pockets, the political shield of its GOP bent, and a massive fan base that’s second to none.
Kap took a stand for justice. Whether he knew the dire consequences of that stand can be fiercely debated. But it’s done. With the NFL season underway and the stack of QBs banged up with more to come, and no prospect of Kap replacing any of them, the NFL owners can’t make it any plainer they are done with him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His forthcoming book, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.