The NFL Commissioner’s office said it wanted former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to attend the second NFL owners meeting. The NFL Players Association said it wanted Kaepernick to attend the meeting. Now whether Kaepernick will attend the meeting or not is anybody’s guess. So far, Kap has done what he has done since the controversy about his anthem protest and his alleged blackballing from the League swirled, and that’s say absolutely nothing publicly about any of this. There are a lot of what ifs then over whether he’ll attend. And if he does, what he would say. However, the bigger ‘what if’ is would the NFL owners really listen and take heed of what he could say to them?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, presumably speaking on behalf of many, if not most, of owners has talked a good game about the League getting more involved in “social change issues” that impact on poor, minority communities. Goodell has met with some of the more outspoken NFL players about their concerns about combatting police abuse, mass incarceration, and racial injustices. These are the very things that Kap sat, took the knee, tweeted about, spent his own money on, and ultimately got kicked out of the League for addressing.
If Kap ever did get an audience with the owners he almost certainly would talk about these causes and press the owners to put their money, time, energy, and behemoth clout, behind support of. The betting odds are that some of the owners would up their efforts to do a few of these things. It wouldn’t take much for NFL teams to pump a few more dollars into education, job training programs, and mentoring programs for at risk youth, and issue a statement here and there about police abuse. These actions are the cheap and easy way for the NFL to show concern.
There are two big problems with all this. Goodell strongly hinted at one when he noted more than once that only a handful of NFL players have said or done anything to back Kap. That means something as simple and defiant as raising a clinched fist, sitting on the bench, or taking a knee during the playing of the anthem. Goodell doubled down on his skepticism about the protests when he pointedly noted that the fans don’t like any of this. He has heard the boos that have rained down on the players when they have locked arms during the national anthem. This not just the pique of a few hot-headed fans. Polls and surveys show that most NFL fans demand that the players just play ball and leave the politics out of the game. They are the ones who shell out tens of millions in ticks, for NFL paraphernalia, the fantasy leagues, buy products from NFL corporate sponsors, and boost the TV ratings.
Goodell and the owners walk a thin tight line between them and the more vociferous black players who demand that the NFL be a social change agent. The line gets even thinner when Goodell and the owners continually see tweets and hear saber rattling broadsides from Trump screaming for the League to crack down on the protests. The owners get indignant, and issue outraged statements, telling Trump to butt out. But these are the same owners who are rock solid GOP guys, have given millions to the party over the years, and that includes fattening Trump’s campaign coffers. When Trump pops off about the League, they know that he speaks for millions of NFL fans
The other problem is owners like Dallas Cowboy’s Owner Jerry Jones, Houston Texans’ owner Robert McNair and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. They aren’t just ultra conservative, hard line, outspoken opponents of any compromise with the players. They are the NFL’s Platinum Star owners. They carry a lot of weight in League decision making circles. They’re not likely to budge from their frozen in time, hard-nosed stance on the protests, let along do anything beyond the usual PR, safe cause stuff the League routinely does to allegedly show it cares about issues beyond the playing field.
There’s one more ace the owners and Goodell have to stall, and ultimately force the players to get back to business as usual. That’s the game itself. The players are players not activists. They make a lot of money, and they want desperately to get their teams into the playoffs. This is will be the prime focus of the players, coaches and management as the playoff race heats up. So, the owners can play for time, clamp a tight muzzle on Jones and McNair so they won’t say anything dumb that rile up the players.
Kap then can say what he wants about police abuse and racial injustice. The owners, including Jones and McNair, will listen politely, tell the media how “productive” this was, and then quickly get back to doing what they want to do more than anything else. That’s just play ball.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His latest book is, The impeachment of President Trump? (Amazon Kindle) 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.