Shut up and play. Stay in your place.These are the messages the National Football League (NFL) is sending to its players with its racist blackballing of Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick took a powerful stand last season for the Black Lives Matter movement and against systemic racism by refusing to stand during the national anthem. Meanwhile, NFL team owners donated more than $7 million to fund the inauguration of racist, misogynistic fascist Donald Trump.1 It is no surprise that they want to punish Kaepernick and use him as an example to quash protest across the league.
What is surprising is that the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is letting owners get away with it. The NFLPA’s job is to stand up for its members but it has been silent about what is happening to Kaepernick. Its leaders can do better. We must speak out now to demand they publicly and visibly speak out on behalf of one of their most high-profile colleagues in the NFL.
It is hard to argue that NFL owners are not blackballing Kaepernick. Last season they vilified him for his protest, with one owner calling him a traitor.2 Owners’ perception of Kaepernick as a threat to their league, revenue and privilege carried over into the off-season as well. During the NFL combine, where management officials of all NFL teams evaluate new recruits, the NFL front offices were reportedly “wary” of Kaepernick (emphasis ours):
According to Bleacher Report, agents confirmed that several players were asked specifically about Kaepernick, and the combine interviews included more political questions, specifically pertaining to Kaepernick’s protests and future potential protests, than [agents] could ever remember.3
Now Kaepernick is jobless, despite having a much stronger record than many quarterbacks the league has signed.4 Some players and coaches have come to his defense, and sports writers have called out this clear blackballing, but the NFLPA has been silent.
The NFLPA has a history of passionately advocating for players, and not just on salary issues. A 2011 lockout resulted in a contract that strengthened player safety protections and gave players a larger share of league revenue.5 The union has even defended players in more questionable contexts. In 2015, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith suggested that Ray Rice was being blackballed by NFL owners.6The NFLPA spent two years defending New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady over the cheating scandal known as Deflategate.7
When Kaepernick began his protest, DeMaurice Smith was asked if he would allow the league to punish Kaepernick. His reply was unequivocal:
There is never going to be a day where this union is going to sit back idly and allow anybody to trample our players’ rights. We’ve taken certainly stands that I’m sure haven’t been popular across the board … if we believe that those rights have been violated, we’re going to stand up and support every player … We never pick a fight with anybody, but we certainly don’t shy away from one if the league brings one to our door.8
There is no question that the league has brought a fight to the NFLPA, and not just one about Kaepernick’s employment. This is about the ability of every player in the NFL to be more than a revenue stream for the league’s white owners, connect his life off the field with his life on it, and use his power and presence to make a difference that goes beyond statistics, points or Super Bowl rings. It is time for the NFLPA to stop shying away from the fight.
If the NFLPA fails to defend Kaepernick, it will be failing all its players. Already Kaepernick’s treatment is sending a chilling effect through the league. As Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said earlier this summer:
It’s something that every player has to weigh. It’s one of the reasons why the entire league isn’t full of activists because it comes with a price. And there’s really no way to avoid the possible repercussions of stepping out and pushing for change.9
In a league that is almost 70 percent African-American and a country where systemic racism means that African-Americans are targets of harassment and violence, blocked from economic opportunity, under- and misrepresented in the media, and overrepresented in the criminal justice system, the NFLPA should applaud an activist player who takes the risk to stand up for the rights of his community and defend him when white owners lock him out.
Can you help make sure the NFLPA knows that people all over the country are paying attention and will have their backs if they stand with Kaepernick and call out NFL owners? Click the link below to sign the petition:
Thank you for everything you do,
Heidi Hess, Senior Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
- Lachlan Markay, “NFL owners rain cash on Trump inaugural,” Daily Beast, April 19, 2017.
- Mike Freeman, “Mike Freeman’s 10-point stance: Kaepernick anger intense in NFL front offices,” Bleacher Report, Aug. 31, 2017.
- Bryan Chai, “NFL front offices still wary of Colin Kaepernick, ” The Wildcard, March 8, 2017.
- Paul Newberry, “Kaepernick unemployed, but at least Cutler has a job,” Five Thirty Eight, Aug. 7, 2017.
- David Meggyesy and Dave Zirin, “How players won the NFL lockout,” The Nation, July 27, 2011.
- John Breech, “NFLPA executive director suggests Ray Rice is being blackballed by NFL,” CBS Sports, May 29, 2015.
- Michael McCann, “Why Tom Brady walked away from Deflategate, and what might be next,” Sports Illustrated, July 15, 2015.
- Dave Zirin, “What the NFL players’ union chief has to say about Colin Kaepernick’s protest,” The Nation, Aug. 26, 2016.
- Carron Phillips, “The allies Colin Kaepernick needs are hiding behind their helmets,” New York Daily News, Aug. 8, 2017.
photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images