On Sunday, I should have been watching football, but wasn’t. The Chargers leaving San Diego, the reports of brain damage to players, the banality of network coverage, and –above all–the racism has ruined what used to be one of my favorite pastimes.
Mid-afternoon on the first regular weekend day of play, I realized I just didn’t care anymore. I didn’t go to ESPN to check the scores. I didn’t watch any of the recaps on the evening news. And the few mentions I saw on social media had no impact.
My malaise concerning the NFL didn’t happen overnight. Back in the day, I worked at a sports bar in Washington DC. It didn’t matter who was playing, we were always packed on game days. Drinking was part of the fun. So was gambling–mostly through pools, though one of the bartenders was married to a bookie and I assumed he got some action.
Now things are different for me. The greed at the top is so blatant it’s no longer possible for a reasonably aware human to believe in ‘their’ team.
And then there’s Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who decided to make a statement about racism in America. His protest was just the last straw in a series of events proving the ‘sport’ isn’t really about athleticism. It’s about commodification and pacification. (I’ll come back to Kaep in a minute.)
I’m not the only one feeling this way. The average number of TV viewers watching games has declined by 1.3 million since 2010. The pr people at the NFL have a sack full of excuses for last year’s 8% drop off in ratings.
— Empty Seats Galore (@EmptySeatsPics) September 10, 2017
Right wingers are saying the drop off is because [white] people are angry about game day protests. Numerous domestic violence incidents involving women and professional NFL players have caused many women to reconsider their support for this sport.
The 13% drop in viewing audience for last Thursday’s opening contest between the Chiefs and the Rams is being blamed on hurricane coverage. Last year’s sag was due to the presidential election.
The reshuffling of team cities has probably not helped. The NFL’s desire to put two teams in the huge Los Angeles market ignored the fact that not many folks there cared about the sport.
And the real killer for the NFL is demographics. Younger people just don’t care about the sport as much as their parents did. The average NFL fan is 4 years older than a decade ago. Hispanics, who are the fast growing population segment in the United States, only make up 8% of NFL fans.
Finally, there’s the class issue. Those glued to gridiron contests may not have noticed, but the middle class–those who might have some time for recreation–is shrinking. While some of these vanishing people now have higher incomes, a larger percentage have been bumped down the ladder.
Given the current mood of the country, it is impossible to ignore Colin Kaepernick. The Make America Great Again folks want to stuff all this fuss about racism back into the bottle, now that the Black guy is no longer in the White House.
Four years into Obama’s presidency it was obvious even to a lot of white people the opposition to his policies was rooted in racism. Health care legislation largely designed by a conservative think tank and implemented on the state level by Republican Governor suddenly became the biggest threat to America, ever.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee rather than stand during a pre-game national anthem to call attention to injustices in policing. And the reactionaries pounced.
As Michael Harriot at The Root pointed out back in March, when it became obvious Kaepernick had been blacklisted:
When the NFL season kicks off next season, one of its signature franchises (the Pittsburgh Steelers) will be led by Ben Roethlisberger, a future Hall of Famer twice accused of rape (once settled out of court). The league will probably hail its reigning championship team, which handed $1.2 million and a Super Bowl ring to Michael Floyd, whom they signed minutes after he lost his previous job for driving around blackout drunk before passing out behind the wheel. They will raise a championship banner to a team whose former star is standing trial for committing double murder while playing for them. Since the beginning of the last season, 19 current NFL players have been arrested for committing crimes, and only four of them were released by their teams. Conversely, Kaepernick is “hated.” Team owners “fear the backlash” against Kaepernick.
Kaepernick’s unsigned status isn’t simply an indictment of the NFL—it is indicative of how this country seeks to punch any mouth brave enough to speak out against injustice or America’s inhumanity. He is despised by league executives for standing up for people of color while they throw seven-figure deals at arrested domestic abusers and alleged sexual assaulters.
The ex-jocks in America’s broadcast booths may not see things this way, but a lot of fans do. And there is a Trump factor in all of this, but the main thing driving the idea of an NFL boycott is racism, pure and simple.
Here’s Chauncey Alcorn, writing at Mic.com:
The fact that team executives have publicly expressed their hate for Kaepernick while several owners have donated millions of dollars for Trump’s inauguration says something greater to Kaepernick supporters about how the NFL regards black people.
“Black lives do not matter to NFL owners,” Nation sports editor Dave Zirin said at one of the Kaepernick rallies. “The NFL [players] are 70% black. NFL owners have covered up studies of brain injuries. There are no [black] NFL owners and you can still count the number of black NFL executives on two hands… No black bodies to entertain as long as black minds are disrespected.”
The NFL’s workforce demographics present a troubling narrative among pro-Kaepernick NFL fans: The small group of older white billionaires don’t seem to mind making money off black men brutalizing each other on the football field. But those same owners do mind if one of those black men speaks out on behalf of his own people, or perhaps worse, potentially affects their profits in doing so.
Here are the 34 QBs signed since Colin Kaepernick last had a job in the NFL pic.twitter.com/cpzY8MAG8y
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 30, 2017
Here’s New York Post columnist Shaun King:
White supremacists are marching on American cities and running over peaceful people with their cars. 830 people have been killed by American police so far this year and only a few among us can name even a single victim. To this day, four different white supremacists who beat the life out of Deandre Harris in the parking lot of the Charlottesville Police Department are still on the loose and have not yet been identified.
It’s been a month.
This is why Colin Kaepernick took a peaceful knee in the first place. He was right to take a knee. Hell, our entire nation should be taking a knee or raising a fist right now.
In case you haven’t heard, the “we’re not racists” argument goes along the lines of Kaepernick not being any good as a player anymore.
Ex-NFL player Stephen White demolishes all those arguments with stats and footage at SBNation, concluding:
I think I’m going to end things here because at the very least I think with the GIFs and the context and the stats, I’ve made a strong case to any impartial observer that Kaepernick played well enough last year that he should be on an NFL roster. That is my only aim.
You don’t have to agree with me that he could easily be starting somewhere like with the Jets or the Browns, but if you are still convinced he “isn’t good enough,” then I’m not sure you could ever be convinced otherwise.
All I really want is for us to be honest about why he isn’t on a roster right now. Then we can debate whether he’s blackballed or not, which is the much more pertinent debate to have.
Here’s a video call out for #BlackOutNFL
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