I have advocated for the Seahawks to bring in ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and I have no objections to players bringing light to social-injustice issues by kneeling during the national anthem. And yet there is an obligation while evaluating this issue to see gray areas.
In a perfect world — but one that’s interpreted differently for each person — no NFL player would kneel on the sideline during the national anthem.
But here’s the problem, and why this issue is so thorny and complex and about as far from black and white as can be despite those on every side who want to view it that way:
• To those who loathe quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his cause, there would be no kneeling because of the disrespect they feel it shows to the U.S. flag and military, and the unnecessary discomfort it brings to a realm they see as escapist entertainment, not a political showcase.
• To those who believe in the cause of Kaepernick and the NFL players who followed his lead, it would be because the social injustice and inequity that prompted him has been satisfactorily rectified.
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• And to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, caught between the activism of a league that’s nearly 70 percent African-American and the owners who believe that activism is hurting the league’s popularity and thus its bottom line, well, he has an entirely different angle. Goodell hopes that by having the league show empathy to the causes that have triggered so many players, and putting $89 million into a seven-year program to support community-based initiatives for criminal-justice reform, players would no longer feel the need to protest during the anthem.
That’s a lot of agendas at work, some at cross purposes, which is why the Kaepernick story chugs along, rearing its ugly headlines once more Thursday. This time, it was the news that the Seahawks were set to bring in Kaepernick for a workout Monday, only to call it off, at least for now, over questions about whether the quarterback would continue his off-field activism, including kneeling during the anthem. Asked that question directly, according to reports, Kaepernick said he didn’t know.
It’s ironic that the Seahawks are experiencing the wrath of Kaepernick supporters despite being the only team that has seriously engaged the possibility of signing Kaepernick — not once, it seems, but twice. At least they are open to the idea, unlike the other 31 teams (at least as far as has been reported).
I have advocated for the Seahawks to bring in Kaepernick as the backup to Russell Wilson and continue to believe he would be perfect for the position. As I have stated before, I have no objections to players bringing light to issues of social injustice by kneeling, which I see as an expression of peaceful protest rather than an affront to patriotism.
Yet, here again, there is an obligation while evaluating this issue to see gray areas. For starters, I think teams have a right to assess the level of, for lack of a better word, distraction that would come attached to signing Kaepernick. This is an especially sensitive issue for the Seahawks, a franchise that celebrates individuality under coach Pete Carroll yet seems to believe the roiling issues surrounding their protesting last year was contributory to their first playoff-free season since 2011.
And I would say it’s also hard to blame owners for looking at a climate of declining TV ratings and waning popularity, and determining that the politicization of the players is at least partially responsible.
Many people have pointed out that the NBA, which embraces activism by its players and coaches to a much greater extent than the NFL does, is experiencing soaring ratings and popularity.
But it’s also important to note that the NBA requires its players to stand during the anthem. As the Washington Post wrote recently, “that has largely removed the catalytic issue of patriotism — and fans’ perceptions of it — from the conversation.”
The NFL may replicate that dictum next month at its league meetings, or it may choose to skirt the issue by requiring teams to stay in the locker room until the anthem is over. The league also might leave it to the discretion of the teams.
I believe Goodell, of all people, is heading down the right road by inviting players to voice their concerns in person. Yes, it might be tied to protecting the brand rather than genuine interest in the causes troubling NFL players — though I’d like to think it’s the latter. If Goodell can convince influential leaders in the so-called “Players Coalition” that the league is serious about investing in social-justice issues (and not just buying them off, as some have charged), perhaps the protests would fade out of their own volition, without a draconian edict from the owners.
That may well be a pipe dream, however. It’s already been well documented that some in the Players Coalition have had deep divisions amongst themselves about how best to proceed, particularly the issue of how much to involve Kaepernick.
My fear now is that Kaepernick’s original attempt at calling attention to oppression against black people and other people of color has been co-opted beyond repair. President Donald Trump pushed the matter inexorably in that direction when he declared last September, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of those NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He’s fired! Fired!’ ”
All of a sudden, any hopes of focusing the discussion on social justice was out the window, and it became just another skirmish on the increasingly toxic political battlefield.
At this point, I honestly think players might be better served by following the NBA model. Stand during the anthem, and more people might start listening to the important things you have to say.