August 5, 2017
CHIANG MAI. It's too bad the Colin Kaepernick story is only playing out in sports media, because to me it's a huge story about contemporary America that should be getting much more attention. His situation is Black Lives Matter colliding directly with wealthy Capitalism.
Kaep cannot get a job in the NFL right now. Coaches and GMs want to sign him, but the owners aren't allowing it. He's being blacklisted. Sports fans and sports media want to talk about stats, about declining numbers, as the discursive framework for debate. As is typical in American discourse, people would rather see the single individual and his own acts as the metric of success or punishment. Fans, owners and the commissioner are in agreement in their disapproval of his protest because they want him to serve their interests: to shut up and stick to throwing the olive-ball.
But the larger issue is that the NFL is like its own state within the state. It has its own set of rules and ethics and while it cannot come into conflict with US laws, it is perhaps the purest state of capitalism imaginable. Except that (or, because?) the majority of its population consists of formerly poor/lower class black citizens who are now more wealthy within this NFL state but possessing very little of the political power the owners possess. Unlike the NBA, more of a player's league, the NFL is an owner's league, an owner's state.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has become one of America's great cultural critics and writers, supports Kaep's protest and points out that "the NFL owners tend to contribute more money to Republican political campaigns and therefore have more of a philosophical interest in not wanting to hear the players’ messages about social injustice."
The Guardian reports that NFL owners were "the most conservative, with $8,052,410.00 funneled toward Republican efforts compared to $189,610.72 for Democratic causes – a ratio that favors the GOP by more than 40 to 1."
Richard Sherman, NFL cornerback and one of the very few players coming to Kaep's defense, puts it more bluntly: “What is it about? It’s not about football or color. It’s about, ‘Boy, stay in your place.’”
When Kaep's protest started (a simple refusal to stand for the National Anthem), I was hoping others would join him, including white players. Maybe this, an upswell that flows from America's love of sports, would be the thing to create a rupture outside of football. But that swell didn't happen. Why? That's another interesting question. Perhaps, as with the US itself, people earning large paychecks don't want to ruffle the feathers of their employers. Even among black athletes in matters of race, money rules the game. Even Stephen A Smith, ESPN's most popular and profitable commentator and an African American, warns players not to "tarnish the shield" that is the NFL brand. He was critical of Kaep's protest from the start. He knows where his paycheck comes from as well.
Opinion might be changing though. These things take time and even Stephen A seems more supportive of Kaep now, recognizing the danger of silencing people.
Whatever happens, it's a story worth following for sure.
The Colin Kaepernick Blacklist: An American Story