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The politics of being Colin Kaepernick

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, Ph.D ow oped | 9/19/2019, midnight

Okay, the 2019 professional football season has started and already crashed for a few of the league’s 32 teams.

Several have already lost their highly paid quarterbacks for several weeks, if not the entire season. This includes the New Orleans Saints, a team whose quarterback has rarely missed a game in over 15 years before this season. It also includes the New York Jets, a woeful team for quite a few years. 

The interesting thing is that no matter how many teams—the very good and the always-struggling—could really be helped by a solid, highly skilled, Super Bowl -winning quarterback who is readily available for a roster spot, no one is calling Colin Kaepernick, of take-a-knee-for-justice fame.

Mr. Kaepernick is not a football diva, has not been accused of sexual assault, rape, murder, mayhem or any other such crime, as several current players have been. He was merely the leader of a football political movement that provoked our current POTUS, who has never played the game at that level nor been in the U.S. military, to issue all kinds of threats and invective against the league. But the take-a-knee quarterback, who can still play at 31-years old, still has marketing appeal and would not necessarily subject any team to widespread fan hostility, is still being sidelined.

In 2018-19, NIKE, the giant sports company, marketed two new logos using Kaepernick’s face. Though there was a little public negativity, the overall reaction was very positive and NIKE’s stock went up dramatically. It was a gutsy call that paid off handsomely for the company. In the sport that supposedly thrives on bravado, hard knocks and fight, where is professional football’s guts?

The NFL still does not have a standard policy on player protests, although the owners tried and failed to get one. The players’ union stopped the attempt. At the beginning of the 2019 season---both preseason and regular season---only three or four players were still seen taking-a-knee in protest.

Part of the league’s response to the controversy had been to bring out civil rights icons John Lewis, Andrew Young, and MLK’s youngest daughter, Rev. Bernice King, onto the field at the beginning of the last Super Bowl in February. The league also donated a lot of money to Black charities, and as a coup d’etat, signed a multimillion dollar contract with J.Z.s ROC Nation to handle entertainment for future Super Bowls. J.Z. infamously said, ‘We’ve moved past protesting to getting something done.’  

Still, Kenny Stills, Malcolm Jenkins  and a handful of other players took a knee during the beginning games of the 2019 season. The protest clearly is not over.

But what is over is the suit Kaepernick filed against the league for collusion in keeping him off the field. He still has not been offered a football contract to play quarterback for any team.  Eric Reid, who initially shared billing with Kaepernick during the protest, also got “blackballed” and filed suit against the league. 

In February, the league and the two former players signed agreements ending the suits, when it became clear the arbitrators assigned to the cases were about to rule in favor of the protesters. The amount of money paid to the two former players, the text of the agreements, and any real publicity about the settlements were forbidden due to confidentially agreements attached. But it is a fact that the suits are over.

Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s former teammate on the San Francisco 49ers, is now playing pro football again for the Carolina Panthers. Colin Kaepernick is not playing. Where is the justice in that? C’mon New York Jets! What do you have to lose? Maybe a winning season for your long-suffering fans?

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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