Why the #NoKaepernickNoNFL Protest is Misguided
We’re three weeks into the NFL’s preseason – and less than one week away from the regular-season opener on Thursday, September 7 – and Colin Kaepernick still does not have a job. A lot of black folks are very unhappy about this, so much so that a Change.org petition calling for a boycott of the NFL, until Kaepernick is on an NFL roster, has garnered more than 175,000 signatures as of this past Friday.
In addition to the proposed #NoKaepernickNoNFL boycott, a “United We Stand Rally for Colin Kaepernick” took place Wednesday, August 23, outside of the NFL’s headquarters in New York city.
There’s no disputing that Kaepernick’s decisions to both kneel during the National Anthem, and be very vocal about his reasons for doing so, have cost him a spot on an NFL roster this season. It’s possible his stance has ended his pro football career altogether.
As a black man, I commend him for taking such an extraordinary risk to bring attention to the systematic oppression, discrimination and injustices which minorities face in America every day. But as strongly as I support Kaepernick’s actions, this league-wide boycott isn’t resonating with me.
The petition does a poor job of justifying a boycott to anyone who understands the business of the NFL, or business at all for that matter. However, my primary concern is that angry pro-Kaepernick fans are pointing their fingers at the wrong culprit.
Boycotting the entire NFL sends the message that the league office and/or the NFL owners collectively are keeping Kaepernick out of the NFL, which is simply not the case.
After praising Kaepernick's protest, the petition attempts to drum up outrage over his unemployment by pointing out that Kaepernick’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) during the 2016 season was better than half of the backup quarterbacks in the league. While that’s true, you don’t have to have been employed in an NFL front office to know that QBR is but one of many factors used to determine whether a team will sign a quarterback.
Schematic fit in the offense, salary demands, age, and direction of the team are just a few of the other considerations used to determine a team’s QB depth chart. In other words, Kaepernick may be a better player than most of the NFL’s backups, but that doesn’t mean he’s a better fit.
Kaepernick’s position in the league’s hierarchy of QBs from a talent and performance perspective is worthy of debate. However, oversimplifying Kaepernick’s performance was not the petition’s most egregious defense. It minimizes the fact that many NFL fans see Kaepernick as a distraction, suggesting that the claim is either untrue or is not a legitimate reason to keep him off a team’s roster.
The idea that Kaepernick’s protest was a distraction – and would continue to be one, even if he followed through on his promise to stop kneeling - is absolutely true. Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows that a company’s willingness to deal with a problem employee is, more often than not, directly correlated with said employee’s contributions to the bottom line. Given how little a backup QB is expected to contribute to a team’s success - both on and off the field - Kaepernick’s ranking on the risk-versus-reward meter is extremely low based on the NFL’s double bottom line of winning and profitability.
The petition also suggests that Kaepernick is being blackballed, which, to be clear, would mean that there is a coordinated effort by the NFL’s thirty-two owners to keep him out of the league. There’s no evidence that is true, but if certain NFL owners are to be believed, there is evidence that signing Kaepernick would come at considerable financial risk.
New York Giants owner John Mara admitted that he’d gotten more correspondence from fans saying they’d stop supporting the team if it signed Kaepernick than he had on any other issue. Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti confessed that he was consulting fans and sponsors while considering whether to sign Kaepernick (though Kaepernick’s girlfriend eventually put an end to that possibility with her inflammatory tweet about Bisciotti and team icon Ray Lewis).
Those are just the two owners that went on record with their concerns about signing Kaepernick. However, it’s important to note that both Mara and Bisciotti highlighted the concerns of fans and sponsors in their statements. Sponsors, like league owners, must factor the reactions of their paying customers into their decisions.
There are undoubtedly times where profit - and in the case of team owners wins and losses - should take a back seat to doing what’s right. The Giants’ decision to cut former kicker Josh Brown last October after he admitted to domestic violence would fall into the category of a morally unambiguous decision.
However, Kaepernick’s protest was clearly not one that drew universal praise or support. Can you really justify boycotting an entire league because a handful of owners fear alienating a portion of their fanbase for signing a player that may not even help their football team?
As opposed to a league-wide boycott, I’d suggest that people carefully study the circumstances surrounding their favorite team. If you feel that Kaepernick would objectively help your football team and that your owner has not provided a sound reason for not signing him, then simply boycott that team. Just recognize that every team’s situation is not the same.
I, for example, stopped supporting the Dallas Cowboys after 25 years of fandom, because Jerry Jones made public statements against Kaepernick’s protest last fall. But instead of boycotting the entire NFL, I shifted my allegiance to the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers, two organizations which have consistently demonstrated a commitment to diversity and equality throughout their history.
If you’re committed to boycotting the entire NFL, I’m simply suggesting that you pick a better reason to do so. Maybe the league took too long to craft an appropriate domestic violence policy. Or maybe you are offended by the NFL’s arbitrary and dictatorial approach to investigating and suspending players. In a league where nearly 70% of its players are black, it’s a little alarming that the NFL’s justice system is worse than America’s.
Player safety advocates could boycott based on the NFL’s decades long rejection of concussion research, or the league’s archaic stance on marijuana, especially as an alternative to opioids.
I personally feel like the NCAA is a more deserving target. But I don’t know that I’ll be taking Saturdays off this year either.