Dear Commons Community,
Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, caused a major conflict last season by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games to protest police brutality and racial oppression. He inspired several other players to follow suit or make similar gestures, leading to debate about whether athletes should publicly engage in political displays during football games.
Kaepernick is now a free agent without a team and many analysts believe teams are refusing to sign him because of his political nature, not his ability.
With the nation consumed by racial division and discussion, the Kaepernick protests are now spreading and drawing more people not associated with the sport to speak out.
“The latest demonstration took place yesterday in Manhattan when a dozen groups including Justice League NYC and Color of Change rallied in front of N.F.L. headquarters. Several hundred Kaepernick supporters showed up, holding signs and chanting “I’m with Kap.” The event’s speakers took the N.F.L. to task for a lack of racial sensitivity and Kaepernick’s continued unemployment.
“First, we are here because we believe Colin Kaepernick deserves a job,” said Symone D. Sanders, the former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. “We also believe that the N.F.L. has been complicit in the ostracization of Colin Kaepernick. And today, it is time for the N.F.L. to take a stand.”
The N.A.A.C.P. wants to meet with Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., to discuss Kaepernick’s absence from an N.F.L. roster.
“No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech — to do so is in violation of his rights under the Constitution and the N.F.L.’s own regulations,” Derrick Johnson, the organization’s interim president and chief executive, said in a letter to the N.F.L. commissioner.
Just as Kaepernick’s protest drew criticism, so did the rally in support of him. A small group of protesters stood across the street, some holding signs in support of the police.
“They are alleging that there is racism involved in Kaepernick not signing in the N.F.L., but he’s a free agent to sign or not sign,” said Karen Braun, who was among the counterprotesters. “Was race the intent? No one can prove that.”
On Monday, in the largest on-field demonstration yet, a dozen Cleveland Browns players knelt during the national anthem, while several other players stood next to them in solidarity. In contrast to last season, when Kaepernick and a handful of black players refused to stand during the anthem, the group included white players.
Goodell has insisted that the league’s 32 teams are not banning Kaepernick. But the issue has put Goodell in the awkward position of defending owners and coaches who have twisted themselves in knots defending their decision not to sign Kaepernick, a quarterback who, unlike the two dozen or so who have been signed so far this year, has led a team to a Super Bowl.”
The Kaepernick story is not going to go away and if NFL owners do not step up, it is likely that there will be a number of embarrassing demonstrations sympathetic to Kaepernick’s situation. In addition, the possibility of a major freedom of speech lawsuit is also likely.