NFL owners were so close! After an entire spring and summer of one owner after another speaking about the negative impact of potentially signing Colin Kaepernick, owners thought they had done away with the issue altogether. After all, training camps had begun and lesser quarterbacks such as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum had received invites, but not Kaepernick. Then the preseason began with the backdrop of the events happening in Charlottesville clouding the political landscape. Suddenly, there was no escaping the tension and divide in America today. After all, it was that tension stemming for policy brutality against young African American males that spurred Kaepernick to protest in the first place. Mershawn Lynch sat during the anthem, then it was Michael Bennett, then in week two countless players expressed themselves and their displeasure in various forms with the racial tension today.
All of a sudden, NFL players were back to being asked questions about Kaepernick, but not just his stance. When asked about why more players haven’t protested, Bennett’s brother, Martellus said, “They fear for their jobs, they fear for their well-being,” keenly aware of how various protests might silently lead to players losing their jobs. Pittsburgh Steeler Cameron Heyward, speaking regarding why Kaepernick hasn’t been signed, “Among players, we want him back in this league. I don’t think anybody is trying to keep him out of the league as a player. He’s a heck of a talent. He played in the Super Bowl. It’s crazy to think that guy doesn’t have a job.” Now again it seems that the NFL has another PR issue on their hands.
Where does this leave the NFL? One word: vulnerable. This preseason, not only have the protests continued, but countless NFL stars have been involved in various forms of protests. Moreover, white NFL players have joined their teammates in their shows of protests around the NFL. From Chris Long to superstar quarterback Derek Carr putting his arm around a protesting Khalil Mack, the protests have expanded all across the country. While Carr said he was merely showing his love for a teammate, it’s hard not to see his action as a show of support for not just Mack’s protest, but all those protesting around the league.
After conducting research to figure out the reason for the drop in attendance and viewership last season and determining that the National Anthem protests were part of the reason, the NFL tried to rid itself of the Kaepernick issue “organically”. When a respected owner like John Mara speaks on his own regarding Kaepernick and says, “All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue….If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game.” This is the owner of the same organization that employed Josh Brown, a kicker with several counts of sexual assault and domestic violence.
When someone such as Mara speaks those words, other owners take notice and whether or not they’ll admit it, they defiantly took a stance against Kaepernick and his actions. They thought they had sent a clear message to the rest of the players in the league, but the continued racial tension has prevented the players from heeding the message as much as was expected by the owners. A league that is already dealing with the backlash from CTE studies, a sometimes chilling response to domestic violence issues, and numerous other issues could ill afford another PR nightmare such as these acts of protests. It will be interesting to see how that affects the NFL this year. The league and its owners can no longer ignore this issue and hope that it goes away. With an ever-changing social landscape, continued silence on such important justice and ethical issues might be the beginning of the end for the league as we know it.