Why the George Floyd Protests Should be a Wake-Up Call for the NFL
The recent horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police have touched off a rapidly wide-spreading wave of protests and outrage over ongoing systemic racism and violence against people of color in the United States. While our society continues to grapple with itself and largely refuses to learn and implement lessons from such tragedies, and work at being better, the same can be said when it comes to sports. In particular, the NFL, which has repeatedly fumbled on issues related to race, should take the current events as a serious wake-up call.
In the past few years, race has supplanted concussions as the most prevalent topic in professional football. The unofficial blackballing of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made huge headlines for kneeling during the national anthem in silent protest against police violence, has not played a snap since the end of the 2016 season. Of course, the league didn’t go so far as to officially ban the signal caller, but the fact he has remained unsigned these last few years is a silent indictment of the way the NFL does business when it comes to race.
Kaepernick became a polarizing figure because of his advocacy, and by proxy, a frequent target of fans. Hardly a day still goes by where you still can’t find posts on sports message boards mocking him and arguing he was jettisoned from the NFL due to a lack of talent. We won’t hash out his qualifications here, but the man has the 24th best passer rating in history and led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl and a NFC Championship game in back-to-back years. Get out of here with any nonsense about him lacking talent. Anyone who can say that with a straight face needs to know such sentiments fall somewhere on the scale between ignorant and racist, with very fine razor’s edge between the two.
The NFL can’t force a team to sign Kaepernick, but they can mold the environment in which doing so is accepted and encouraged. Of the 60-plus quarterbacks in the league each season, there is no feasible argument that they have all been better than Kaepernick, who is still just 32. Criminals, cheaters, abusers and more have been allowed to play over the years, and some of those players have received multiple chances in many cases. Yet, there’s no room for a person whose sole transgression was silent protest of a very real and destructive issue? For a league that regulates everything from touchdown celebrations to decorations on player shoes, their virtual shrug when it comes to Kaepernick and other matters of race is oddly off-brand.
There has been a rumor here and a whisper there of some teams kicking the tire on him but those have never turned out to be anything more than lip service, which sadly seems to be the official NFL stance when it comes to matter of race and diversity.
The league’s recent proposal to encourage the hiring of minority coaching and front office candidates is more of the same. They’d like to offer teams draft pick incentives for such hires instead of providing education and training on how to implement such practices holistically. Compensation for being so bold as to consider or even hire qualified minority candidates is a slap in the face. It does nothing to change the establishment and is not much more than a public display of them “doing something,” when in fact nothing is really being changed.
The current unrest and protests are unfortunate. Not so much because they are happening but because they have to happen if any real change will occur in the current system of oppression and brutality. The NFL should be paying close attention because they’ve managed to largely escape their clumsy, half-hearted efforts and continue with business as usual.
Author J. Nedumaan once wrote, “A person who knows to withstand will know to stand.” As the country continues to mete out and tolerate injustice, revolt and disgust will continue to foment. The NFL has managed to make it to the present being in turns both complicit and apathetic but the writing is on the wall that a day is likely coming soon where they will be made to truly answer for themselves.