I have rewritten this article 10 times. 10 different times, 10 different takes, 10 different points of view. In each one I keep finding a fault in the writing, the prose, the tone, the angle. I want to rage and burn it all to the ground. I want to have an honest discussion about the first amendment. In one iteration of this article I wrote nearly 700 words on (god help me) Tim Tebow. So why am I here? What am I trying to say? I’m here to say goodbye to the NFL.
I Love Football.
More specifically I love the New England Patriots. I’m the crazy fan friend everyone tags in New England Patriots memes. During the Football season my nights end in bed, googling “Patriots News” and then heading down a rabbit hole that sometimes takes me 2-3 hours to emerge from. I generally am part of 4-6 fantasy football leagues every season. I consume the NFL product, I am a purchaser of NFL merchandise, I am an NFL fan.
For years this has required some mental gymnastics on my part. My personal activism constantly stood in opposition to issues running rampant through the NFL. In the way the NFL looks the other way over problems such as domestic violence and other violent crimes. The culture of toxic masculinity. The increasing concern over serious debilitating brain injuries. I had different excuses for each problem and could rationalize each one.
Then came Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid.
A Country Worth Standing For
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
– Colin Kaepernick
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I keep hearing that song from Mulan “A Girl Worth Fighting For” but I see an animation of Colin Kaepernick singing “🎵what do we want? A country worth standing for!🎵” Hey internet, could you please get on that?]
Ever since I was little I’ve found the singing of the national anthem before athletic events to be odd. It has always felt so arbitrary. Of all my extracurricular activities, why were athletics given this special significance? We didn’t sing the anthem before concerts, or theatre, or dance. It didn’t happen before I ate at a potluck, or went on field trips. I never understood what athletics and the anthem of the United States had in common. I was never raised saying the pledge of allegiance but the concept there always felt weird to me as well. At 8 years old I didn’t have the words to express this feeling, but now I know what that nagging thought was in my brain.
Forced Compliance is not Patriotism
If you force me to say something, then the words become just words. Do I pledge allegiance to the United States of America? I don’t know, but I know saying it because I’m required to is indoctrination. So when Colin Kaepernick spoke the words above, the same flicker rose in my brain. We shouldn’t sacrifice our standards of human behavior in order to conform to a country. That country should make its citizens proud to stand. Instead the country declared Kaepernick a traitor.
Before I talk about anything else I need to digress. Because I searched “Kaepernick meme” on Google and this was one of the first things to come up. Using the word “Muslim” as an insult is one of the first ways I will know to stand against you and whatever you stand for. Some of the most incredible people in my life are of the Muslim faith and to wield that as a weapon is every shade of wrong. To word associate “Muslim” with “Terrorist” is inexcusable. Okay, back to the NFL.
You Know What Happened Next
This is not a history article. I’m not here to talk about the timeline of the kneeling protests. I’m here to ask something. What in the ever-loving f**k is the NFL doing? I mean it. What do they think will happen here? Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr put it quite succinctly:
It’s just typical of the NFL. They’re just playing to their fan base. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But that’s how the NFL has conducted their business…Our leadership in the NBA understands when the NFL players were kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military. But our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit, pandered to their fan base, created this hysteria.
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) May 24, 2018
I will challenge Coach Kerr on one thing, however. They’re not pandering to their fan base, they’re pandering to Donald Trump‘s fan base. I say this because I am a merchandise-purchasing, ticket-buying fan of the NFL. They certainly aren’t pandering to me. They certainly aren’t pandering to the players. At the beginning of the 2014 season, the NFL released their racial breakdown statistics. At the time the league was 68% African-American. In the 2016 election 80% of African-American men did not vote for Donald Trump. Statistically, we know how the players feel about this decision.
Sidebar: On Tim Tebow
The Turf will be releasing a longer article to this point, but please stop with false equivalency. Tim Tebow did not kneel in protest of America. He did not kneel during the National Anthem. Tebow kneeled before games, post-anthem, before drives, and after scoring touchdowns. He was praying, not protesting. But I do think about the Tebow situation for a variety of reasons. One Charlotte Observer editor noted a question I keep coming back to:
Now imagine he said that gesture was meant to remind everyone to put God first, even before a certain iconic red, white and blue flag.
“I respect the American flag, the freedoms for which it stands and those who sacrificed for those freedoms,” Tebow would have declared. “But there’s only one God. Being compelled to stand in a free country as a forced display of public loyalty, even to a place as great as the United States, would feel too much like worshipping a flag and placing it above God. That, I cannot do.”
Would those who are criticizing Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players for kneeling during the anthem have criticized Tebow for such a gesture?
It’s a good question, and I honestly don’t know the outcome.
So What Do I Think?
I think about all the atrocities that those kneeling are protesting. I think of the disproportionate way people of color are treated in this country. The way women are abused, and treated as liars when they speak up. The way the society will rally behind a white man trying to make a comeback after doing something wrong, but not the same with a man of color. I think of the injustices, and the inequalities, and the long, long way we have to go together. And I think, f**k you, NFL.
How dare you treat people like things. How dare you take money from the Military as paid advertisement, turn it into part of the regular routine, and then feign outrage at protests. How dare you turn the other cheek time and time again, but blacklist a talented quarterback and have the audacity to say it’s merely a football decision. I can’t do it any more. Until the league takes actionable steps to support its players, to support all Americans, and to take actionable steps against its myriad of issues, I can no longer be a supporter. I will no longer be writing about the NFL for The Turf unless it is in relation to these issues. No more fantasy football, ticket purchases, Patriots gear additions, or late night article binges.
The NFL decided that fans like me weren’t appreciated. The NFL decided that the lives of people of color in this country were less important than Donald Trump’s bloviating. So the NFL no longer has my support. I hope one day it wins it back. I hope first that they decide to kneel with their players instead of stand with Donald Trump.
Here’s to hoping.