By Javis Ogden
The NFL has unwittingly inserted itself into the soup du jour that is kneeling for the national anthem. Much to its chagrin, America’s most popular sport now has to participate in a national conversation: Is kneeling during the presentation of the anthem disrespectful, or is it a needed – albeit uncomfortable – measure that must be taken to force dialog concerning racial inequality for primarily black, but also brown people?
That aside, let us not forget the impetus for this nationwide clash. During the 2016 NFL preseason, then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was noticed sitting during the national anthem in a photograph that was tweeted by Jennifer Lee Chan of Niners Nation on August 26th. The point of the photo actually had nothing to do with Kaepernick. It was a snapshot taken of the team before kickoff at a meaningless preseason game. But when media outlets picked up the image and noticed that he wasn’t standing with the rest of the team, a story began to brew.
Eventually, it was confirmed, first by the team and then by him, that him sitting was intentional. He indicated that he was doing so as a show of protest in lieu of recent incidents of apparent police brutality against black people. After the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, themselves incidents that were not the first of their kind recently, Kaepernick decided he could no longer remain silent. His exact words to NFL Network: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He said far more, but you get the picture.
Fast-forward past the season, and speculation begins to mount that because Kaepernick decided to be so bold as to ask that America do right by black people, he might have jeopardized his career moving forward, given his status as a free agent. There is concern that teams would be unwilling to sign him because his “disrespect of the national anthem and the American flag” would fly in the face of the principals of white NFL owners who would then collude against Kaepernick and keep him out of the league. There was belief that he would be “blackballed” by the NFL.
Three weeks into the 2017 season and a reckless, ill-informed tweet from his girlfriend later, and it would appear that such was the case.
Naturally, Kaepernick not having a roster spot is fodder for the pro-Kaepernick, social justice warrior contingent who is screaming that he is being blackballed by the league; and you know what? They’re half-right. Kaepernick is being blackballed, but it isn’t by the NFL. He’s being blackballed by the people. YOU are blackballing Colin Kaepernick. NFL fans have no one to blame for Kaepernick’s inability to be signed by an NFL team but themselves. Aside from those on the side of the aisle who align with Kaepernick’s ideals, it is the people who have decided that Kaepernick has to go. Not the rich owners, and here’s why.
Ladies and gentlemen, with regards to the owners, the situation with Kaepernick isn’t about blackballed versus not blackballed, American pride versus anti-Americanism, racism versus non-racism, or any other dichotomy of good versus evil that one can conjure to describe what is at play with him specifically not being signed (or at least it isn’t about that on a macro level). This is about what it will always be about for NFL franchises: the bottom line. NFL owners operate in such a way that every decision that they make has to work toward the upward tick of revenue, exposure, and positive public relations – the three axioms of pro sports business, if you will.
Those three factors work in concert with one another, and with no particular hierarchical nature. Bad PR facilitates bad exposure, which leads to declining revenues. A decline in revenues can lead to firings and hirings that result in bad press and bad exposure, and so on and so forth. There’s no order to how they work. Rather, all have to work symbiotically with one another in order to facilitate the operability of a stable, money-making franchise. When one axiom within an NFL franchise is compromised, the whole thing comes tumbling down, and Kaepernick is the living embodiment of such a compromise.
The reason why fans are the people responsible for keeping Kaepernick out of the NFL is because they are the ultimate arbiters for the three axioms. Owners aren’t reluctant to sign Kaepernick because he stands for something that is diametrically opposed to their sensibilities. They’re reluctant to sign someone who is diametrically opposed to the sensibilities of their franchises’ fanbase.
They’re constantly involved in meetings and focus groups to ensure that a decision that they’re contemplating won’t have an adverse effect on their fanbase because they know that a bad PR relationship with their fans will lead to lost ticket sales, lost season-ticket holders, lost concessions, and ultimately a loss of corporate sponsors. Put those losses together in a vacuum, and you have what equates to a lost franchise entirely. A BAD business investment.
At this juncture, the majority of NFL fans have spoken; and they want no part of these anthem protests at their beloved games. Although they may be silent compared to the noisey social justice and equality crowd, the “stand for the anthem” crowd remains the quiet conservative majority who, above the owners themselves, would never be able to reconcile the presence of Colin Kaepernick on their team’s roster with any positive impact that he may have on team performance. Owners know this. They know that signing Kaepernick is going to be followed by serious backlash from fans.
What Kaepernick supporters and fighters for equality actually want is for owners to be courageous enough to sign him despite that knowledge because it is for the greater good. The problem with this is owners don’t operate off of intrinsic motivators like right and wrong. They operate off of what will make their product more perpetually viable and what will position them to make as many lucrative corporate relationships as possible. Widespread negative fanfare by signing a polarizing fringe quarterback isn’t going to accomplish that.
I don’t want to miss the opportunity to address the nature of this argument as a generalization, for there are certainly owners who may indeed fall under the blackball umbrella.
Are there owners who are offended by what Kaepernick did and don’t want to sign him on principal because they don’t like his form of protest? Certainly there are. See New York Jets owner and Donald Trump supporter Woody Johnson as an example. I’d even be willing to acknowledge that there are those among the owners who not only hate his form of protest, but inherently disagree with the overarching message of racial equality because they like the way things are; that there are those among them who are latent racists.
What I am challenging is the idea of clandestine collusion on the part of the owners as a collective to keep him from being signed. That is not at play here.
This is a case of suppliers being reticent to make a decision that will ward off their consumer base. This is about economics; and since so many people have taken an affront to what Kaepernick did, there isn’t an owner on either side of the isle who will take the chance on giving him a shot. It has even become too polarizing an issue for them to weigh whether his contributions would be worth the effort. For proof of this, see the Jacksonville Jaguars and aforementioned New York Jets, both whom trot out mediocre quarterback play week after week because doing so is a better business proposition than giving Kaepernick a serious look.
The fatal flaw inherent in those who argue on behalf of racial equality and social justice is that they have a propensity to believe that their war is one that can be waged on any front. They believe that because Kaepernick did what he did, the fight for what’s right can be taken to the doorstep of the NFL and successfully fought. This is not true.
Unfortunately, the NFL is an American institution that is fundamentally rooted in conservative sensibilities. It’s constituency might not say much on Twitter and Instagram, but they will show up to the polls to elect Donald Trump, and they will make it clear that kneeling for the national anthem is in poor taste in their estimation. This doesn’t make them right, but as the majority influence, thy will be done.
Trust when I say that if the NFL owners knew that bringing Colin Kaepernick onboard wouldn’t yield widespread contempt, he would already be on a team. Even if the fear was only mild, and they believed that him producing wins would quell the noise, he would have at least been given ample opportunities to show and prove.
What they do know, however, is quite the opposite: that signing the beleaguered QB would be a bad business decision. It is because of this that it is fans who are truly at fault for blackballing Colin Kaepernick. Perhaps you’re not among this group. Perhaps you are an NFL fan who is of the belief that the NFL has gotten together to keep Kaepernick out. What you need to understand, however, is that just because you’re right, and just because you’re the loudest, doesn’t mean that you’re the majority.
The majority have spoken, and they want no part of him on their Sundays. How many of these conversations have you had with those whom you consider friends? Look to your left and right. You might be sitting next to a certified blackballer and didn’t even know it.
Does this make sense? Is it crazy? Do you agree with me that fans have the biggest role to play in Kaepernick regaining his stature as a viable quarterback, cause aside? Or am I missing the boat and the NFL owners have indeed colluded to keep him grounded? If you think I’m off, let me know how.
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