“Though this legal battle with Kaepernick has been resolved, he isn’t going away either. The league will forever have to live with the fact that it was complicit in destroying someone’s career simply because he wished to bring attention to the injustices suffered by his people. If owners and Roger Goodell believe that they no longer will have to face questions about why Kaepernick isn’t in the league, they’re wrong. No matter what an arbitrator rules, how the NFL treated Kaepernick will always be the mistake they can never amend.” — Jemele Hill
Over the last several weeks, two incidents have served to remind us of the hypocrisy and racism that still permeates the National Football League. First, the league reached a settlement with former San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, who accused the league’s 32 teams of colluding to keep them from playing because they knelt through the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality.
Second, yet another in a seemingly endless stream of reports surfaced about a player accused of domestic violence. This time: Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who has a history of domestic violence, is being investigated for assault of a child.
It’s hard to deny that the NFL appears to be an institution that is tolerant of domestic violence, but intolerant of social activism.
The excuse that signing Kaepernick would be a bad business decision was obliterated last fall by sportswear giant Nike. After unveiling an ad campaign featuring Kaepernick, sales rocketed and its stock price soared. As sportswriter Jason La Canfora noted of the “bad for business” argument, “Oh really? How’s it working out for Phil Knight? You think he did this as a publicity stunt? It ain’t warm and fuzzy in the Fortune 500, brother, it’s just business — cutthroat business at that in sporting apparel — and Nike made this calculated decision to make money. And that they are doing.”
The excuse that Kaepernick simply isn’t a good enough player is also laughable. Even the most casual football fan can observe quarterbacking every week that is not up to Kaepernick’s standards. Since 2011, Kaepernick is tied for 14th in QB rating, tied with Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. Plenty of quarterbacks with lower ratings not only are playing, but have secured deals worth more than $10 million per year.
The facts simply do not bear it out that Kaepernick’s skill and abilities don’t measure up. Sports news site The Athletic in January surveyed 85 defensive NFL players from 25 different teams about their favorite and least favorite quarterbacks.
“There is one quarterback the defensive players surveyed were nearly unanimous on: Colin Kaepernick,” The Athletic wrote. “Only two of the 85 said he should not be on an NFL roster and another two chose not to comment.”
Audio recording of a meeting between owners and players last spring revealed a simpler — and feebler — answer for why Kaepernick isn’t signed: the owners are afraid of the president’s Twitter account.
“The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don’t feel is in the best interests of America,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “It’s divisive and it’s horrible.”
Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula shared Kraft’s fear: “All Donald needs to do is to start to do this again.”
Fear of a Tweet is keeping a talented athlete in the prime of his career from earning a living at the sport in which he excels. It’s depriving the league and its fans of that talent.
Signing Kaepernick would not just be good for Kaepernick, it would be good for the NFL, good for the fans, and good for America. The NFL must right this wrong and give the fans and the players what they want.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.