Yesterday, I posted an image to my Facebook page which featured NFL players Michael Vick, someone else I don’t know (Rice?) and Colin Kaepernick. Two players were convicted of felonies, served time and then were granted multimillion-dollar contracts to return to the NFL. Colin Kaepernick, in case like me you have been living under a rock and don’t follow American football, kneeled during the national anthem at several NFL games last season to ‘protest police brutality and social injustice’. As a free agent this year, he remains unsigned by any team in the NFL.
Before yesterday’s post disappeared into the virtual black hole, I didn’t get a chance to respond to a few comments. Several of these touched upon various issues in the blacklisting of Kaep and the utter hypocrisy of turning a blind eye or dismissing bad (and to my mind) worse behaviours vis-à-vis players like Michael Vick since ‘they did their time’. Because this entire story equally fascinates and infuriates me, I thought I’d move the conversation here.
First, yes, indeed, Michael Vick served time. And, he’s spun that tale of redemption. But, honestly, his words and deeds still make me sick. That he’s been rewarded obscenely so makes it all the worse. To me, his post-prison personae shows very little contrition or humility in the sense that he knows he did something bad. Rather, he laments getting caught, rather than committing the crime in the first place. He regrets his prison sentence rather than abusing and killing dogs.
Another comment suggested that the NLF lost money this past year due to the actions of Kaep. I don’t buy it (no pun intended). Evidently, even as an unsigned player, Kaep falls 39th on the list of 50 top-selling official player merchandise. Do a search on Kaep and a slew of articles pop up blaming him for the NFL’s falling attendance and popularity, but they all appear to be from similar sources and those who disagree ideologically with his message rather offering any real figures or data. Thus, despite his popularity with audiences, Kaep is a convenient scapegoat. It’s convenient as a headline and that’s about it.
Another point was made that Kaep and others who do peacefully voice an opinion / raise awareness as only they can given the platform and audiences at their disposal should just accept the consequences when they voice unpopular views and are ridiculed or ostracised. I don’t think anyone who has voiced an opinion, popular or not, ever assumed that they shouldn’t face ridicule or disagreement. But, this same rationale only goes so far. More often than not, it crosses a line between respectful disagreement and outright hatred and threats of violence. Rather ironic in this particular case given why Kaep kneeled in the first place.
What really bothers is that this rationale harkens back to the justifications for the absurd public shaming and death threats lobbed at the Dixie Chicks when they were told to just ‘shut up and sing’.
Death threats for voicing an opinion. Peaceably exercising their freedom of expression.
Does Kaep or did the Dixie Chicks deserve that? Rather than hear them out, we appear awfully quick to dismiss their concerns and demonise them. Pointing out the hypocrisy, particularly in the case of Kaep, seemingly falls on deaf ears and a return to the logical of ‘shut up and play’.
Yes, athletes are performing a job. Yes, they are ‘entertaining’ us (or fans of sport X). But, why oh why do we think they have no right to have a voice? Why are we so quick to shame and punish Kaep for exercising his right, but we allow others to commit insanely violent and disgusting acts and to continue playing whilst reaping unbelievable financial rewards as well?
It both surprises me and doesn’t that a tracking tool was developed to log crimes committed by various NFL players. In addition to drunk driving and drugs possessions charges, one incidence lists ‘head butting his wife’ and ‘throwing a shoe at an 18-month-old infant’.
That’s lovely role-modelling there.
In my post yesterday, someone else commented that they were in favour of not allowing anyone convicted of a crime from playing in the NFL again. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I certainly would balk at supporting a team that allows rapists and those perpetrating domestic violence on their playing field or in their uniforms. I certainly wouldn’t honour a player convicted of using dogs as bait (e.g., Vick’s induction into Virginia Tech’s Sports Hall of Fame).
Kaep wasn’t violent (unlike a heap of other players, convicted or otherwise), he didn’t commit a crime (freedom of speech was and still is legal, thankfully) and he serves as a positive role model in his community off the football field as well (rather quietly I would say).
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of American football. At all. It’s just never really been that interesting to me. If I were a fan, though, I’d be more supportive of a team that stood behind Kaep than I would be of teams who continue standing behind the likes of Vick and others in that tracking tool.
Shaun King wrote an incredible piece on his obsessive love of football and why he was now boycotting the NFL. For him, as a lifelong football fan, he won’t watch or follow the sport any longer as well given the inherent hypocrisy of Kaep.
For a sport which to me is so over-the-top patriotic, why oh why are we punishing individuals for trying to make our country and ourselves better?