• Will Cuberos

Honoring Kap: How the NFL can Promote Peaceful Protests

Image Credit: Associated Press

1,385 days.

That’s the length of time between when former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began his peaceful protest against racial inequality in the United States, and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement that the NFL is “committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs, and partners.”

In that time Kaepernick has received death threats, was a frequent target of President Donald Trump on Twitter, and surprisingly settled a collusion lawsuit against the NFL. But of even more concern was the large number of black Americans killed by police, including Stephon Clark, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the latter of which led to worldwide protests against systemic racism, not just in the United States, but around the globe.

While Kaepernick and other players were allowed to kneel during the national anthem, the NFL spoke out against their form of protest with the false claim that the players were insulting current and former members of the military. It didn’t matter that Kaepernick on multiple occasions spoke about his support for the military, the message was continually highjacked by media and politicians who refused to hear what the players were saying, going so far as to have Vice President Mike Pence attend a game in Indianapolis to stand for the anthem, only to leave shortly after kickoff once his photo-op was over.

But following the May 25 murder of George Floyd, in which Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 42 seconds, the NFL, along with numerous corporations and individuals decided now was the time to voice their concern with racial oppression, finally echoing Kaepernick’s message from four years ago.

While the chances of Kaepernick being signed are slim, the NFL should still open their collective arms and welcome Kap back into the fold. In his time away from the NFL, he has become an outspoken advocate against racial inequality; during his last season in the NFL he began the Million Dollar Pledge where he made donations to organizations that worked in oppressed communities. In 2016 he and his partner Nessa started the Know Your Rights Camp, where they held free seminars for disadvantaged youths to teach them about self-empowerment, American history, and legal rights.

In 2017 a group of players led by Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins formed the Players Coalition, a group committed to criminal justice reform, police and community relations, and economic and educational advancement. Later that same year, when the Players Coalition met with the NFL, Kaepernick wasn’t invited.

Since Floyd’s murder the tenor of the NFL has taken a dramatic turn. Following Goodell’s statement, the NFL also announced on June 11 that they would be committing $250 million over the next 10 years to combat systemic racism and support African-American communities. Multiple players have stated that they are planning widespread protests during the 2020 season and have seen overwhelming support from coaches and ownership.

But if the NFL wants to make a real statement against racism, then a team needs to sign Kaepernick. In November 2019, the NFL held a sham workout for Kaepernick, and due to the schedule, coaches and GMs weren’t able to attend, no cameras were allowed, and most damning, a player waiver that differed from the standard used by the NFL during player workouts. Three full seasons have passed since he began silently protesting racial inequality, in that time frame 100 different quarterbacks have started an NFL game and over 80 have been signed to contracts, yet Kaepernick hasn’t been able to secure an individual workout with a team. In Goodell’s video he admits “we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier,” but amazingly fails to mention Kaepernick’s name once.

Former teammate Carlos Hyde, now with the Seattle Seahawks, said this week, “If they sign Kap back that will showing that they’re trying to move in a different direction. Kap was making a statement four years ago about what’s going on in today’s world, and the NFL didn’t bother to listen to him then. I think they should start by doing that.” Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure that “[Kaepernick’s] protest is being heard at this point, but it’s taken too long. I think he should have every opportunity to have a job and a spot at this point.”

Signing Kaepernick won’t fix what’s wrong with the NFL, or with society as a whole, but it would be a step in the right direction. It’s time for the NFL to stop being wrong and do right by the player who was right all along. When Kaepernick refused to stand during the National Anthem, he was attempting to bring to light the issues that many weren’t ready to see, but now those issues have been thrust into the social consciousness, he helped to inspire the current social movement and had his career taken from him as a punishment.

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