In March of 2017, I wrote some words about Colin Kaepernick and making adjustments (1). The sentiment was that Kaepernick took a knee to protest police brutality in the United States, and after doing so for the entire 2016 NFL season, his contribution to the movement would likely need to be modified after the season was over in order for the movement to take the next step, whatever that step was. It would also give me, a fan of the NFL since I was 9 years old, who became a rabid fan as I got older, an opportunity to make an adjustment of my own and show solidarity to his sacrifice. It was an adjustment that would have been inconceivable years ago: sitting out the 2017 NFL season. Don’t get it twisted; this decision did not come right away. There were people who made the decision long before I did (2). As a matter of fact, it took a good friend of mine, one who has traveled the roads with me to countless Dallas Cowboys games and training camps, to plant the seed.
As was the case every season, the discussion was about the upcoming season, what the Cowboys record would be, who would piss us off the most and who would be some of the more pleasant surprises. You know, the conversations all friends have about their favorite NFL teams. However, this one was different. Immediately, she said she would not be watching the upcoming season due to the league’s treatment of Kaepernick. It took me aback at first, because even though we, along with plenty of other fans, were pissed that Kap didn’t have a job, boycotting the entire season was not something that was a viable option. Until it was.
I downplayed her words and assured her that she would be back before week one. With that said, I had known her for years, and knew as much as she loved the NFL and loved the Cowboys, she was not going to budge. I wished her luck on her boycott and continued to prepare for week one. As much as I was going to miss having her around to talk about games and as much as I agreed that Kap was being done wrong, seven months with no football was too much and I wasn’t prepared to give it up.
Week one came and, due to factors that I did not anticipate, I didn’t watch a snap of the NFL the entire weekend. My streaming cable service at the time did not provide local channels, and the antenna I bought from Amazon did not pick up a strong enough signal to help either. Plus, I was on the road the entire day before Sunday Night Football, so by the time I got settled, everything came and went. Even then, I didn’t anticipate these events setting up what would eventually lead to not watching the NFL all season. The solution was simply to call another cable company, turn my cable back on and do away with the streaming service. The call was placed on Monday and the cable company came to the house the following day to set everything up. I was back in business, and the NFL would be in the house in only a few days.
Then, I started to look online more with Kaepernick’s situation. Despite only one week into the season, quarterbacks who were far beneath him were getting opportunities (3) while he continued to go without a team. Opponents of his stance were coming up with all sorts of rationale as to why he wasn’t signed to a team while his supporters expressed their dissent (4) with the NFL and the powers-that-be through actions that were loud and clear (5). The combination of these factors all started to make sense. As a black man, it would be damn near impossible to look at myself in the mirror and continue to watch the NFL after realizing that the only reason Colin Kaepernick didn’t have a job was because he took a knee to defend people who looked like me. Even though I knew it before, it really hit me that moment in the middle of September 2017. At that point, I decided not to watch until he got a job and, if it meant sitting out the season, that would be fine.
This season reminded me that the NFL is arguably the biggest unifier in bringing people together. In seasons past, the phone and text messages would have been on fire along with constant conversations about games being had at work, in the gym and everywhere in-between. As the season went along though, the calls and texts were less and less frequent with the conversations at work and the gym lessening and, eventually, ceasing altogether. When someone would call the phone, send a text, or a tweet and ask about a play during a game, or a play that someone made or did not make, I would reply, ‘I don’t know; I don’t care” without delving further into the conversation.
Eventually, people would ask what was going on and my reply was always the same: “Kap doesn’t have a job because he took a stand for what he believes in, and as long as he’s being kept out of the League, my black ass ain’t watching. My money’s green, too!” and I would go back to whatever I was doing. The last part of the quote was intentional due to seeing readily available stories (6) about the NFL not wanting to upset its fan base and lose money, except that was tied to the fans who opposed players kneeling. I rarely saw anything about the fans who supported players and their right to protest during the anthem. The NFL didn’t seem to care about that section of fans and the possibility of alienating us (7) to the point that we would stop supporting their product.
Boycotting the NFL led to several contentious discussions with some of my closest friends, but it didn’t matter. A line was drawn in the sand. If a game was on in a restaurant, I either sat away from the television or went somewhere else to eat. When it came to going out of town and looking for hotels, the Marriott was out of the question, despite years of staying primarily at the Marriott. They are a partner of the NFL and, since NFL was keeping Kap out, anything involved with the league was not about to get my money. The annual trip to D.C. to watch the Cowboys/Redskins still happened, except there was no trip to the game itself. The night before the game, I hung out with some friends, and, when Sunday rolled around, I went out to eat and moved around the city instead. And while it’s been gratifying to see The Ghost of Colin Kaepernick’s past play a role (8) in seeing NFL players and owners have discussions about social justice, it didn’t result in him being back on a roster during the 2017 season.
History has a way of remembering people who were on the right side, and there are enough indicators that Kap is, and will continue to be, on the right side of history (9). The NFL season is coming to an end, and similar to the words last March, adjustments must continue to be made. Investing money in the Know Your Rights Camp (10) is one action and makes the most sense. The Know Your Rights Camp is a free camp for the youth (11) which raises awareness on education as well as providing instruction to the youth to properly interact with law enforcement. Four separate camps have been held in Oakland (12), New York (13), Chicago (14) and New Orleans (15) with all four fully funded by Kap with more on the way. The Know Your Rights homepage provides people with an opportunity to invest financially in the camp, which is the path I have decided to take. As of January 31st, Kap completed his Million Dollar Pledge (16) with the final round of donations being matched by various individuals (17) including Kevin Durant, Serena Williams, Steph Curry, Jhene Aiko, and others.
These moves, as well as being recognized by GQ as its Citizen of the Year (18), Sports Illustrated as its Sportsman of the Year (19) and by The Nation for his efforts in the community (20) continue to make him, arguably, the most recognizable name in the National Football League, despite not being on an NFL roster the entire season. A leader is defined by the ability to guide and direct; it does not mean that person should do all of the work. Colin Kaepernick sacrificed his livelihood for something bigger than himself and has laid a blueprint for others to follow.
All sources for this post are located in the Notes section.