“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” —Martin Luther King Jr.
Is starting off a football post with a quote from MLK over the top? I don’t know. Maybe.
But what can I say? I think the NFL is one of the best microcosms for American life there is. Never has this league that includes people from all races, religions, and backgrounds working together to achieve something greater than themselves been so informative. And never has the NFL’s subtle blend of corruption, lies, and greed hit that American sweet spot juuuuust right.
Even better: the low stakes of football and our familiarity with the league’s inner-workings, make the NFL fertile ground for discussing some of the more sensitive issues that face our nation. And what issue has gotten more people’s jocks in a twist than the kneeling of one Colin Kaepernick?
Pretty much nothing. The subject has been debated and hit with so many hot takes it’s been burnt to a crisp. Still, the subject matter’s charred exterior lets you know that there was fire under all that smoke. Let the lesson be learned—people don’t get this defensive over an issue unless there’s some truth to it.
Like the guy who keeps insisting that he’s slept with tons of hot women—you know he’s probably super gay.
The big takeaway from the Kaepernick debate? The NFL is a racist league. A fact that should surprise no one, and yet, is simply mind-boggling to most of the league and its fans. I don’t even say racist in the malicious, maniacal sense as much as the depressing reality one. Of course the NFL is a racist league; simply by virtue of it being an American league.
Through this lens, the fervor over Kaepernick is predictable. Not since the L.A. riots have racial tensions in America been so high. It only makes sense they’d rear their ugly head behind the silver shield.
(Oh, and L.A. just got two football teams.)
But that’s what makes the modern NFL microcosm more valuable than ever. In a time and place where the white male voting base of our most problematic political party (sorry Republicans) is in nearly direct overlap with the fan base of our country’s most popular sport—a conversation about professional football might be just what we need to work some of this shit out.
I don’t see a lot of other avenues.
In a country where most white men don’t want to be bothered with discussions about racial inequality or police brutality, basically because it doesn’t concern them, sometimes you have to bring the debate to their door. You have to inject the conversation into their living rooms whether they like it or not.
(Spoiler alert: they do not like it. See: every tweet about “liberal ESPN” ever.)
Colin Kaepernick did just that last season. It’s what made his kneeling so important.
Now, even more important perhaps, is the blowback he has received for his defiance. Last season, Kaepernick protested racial inequality, and this season, in a league where 31 of the 32 employers are white, he no longer has a job.
This is a problem.
A problem that will get worse before it gets better. One that must now be solved by the rest of the league in his absence. And one where MLK’s quote about race in America applies oh-so-well to the NFL microcosm. Aaron Rodgers let his feelings on the issue be known. And in doing so, I’m sorry to announce, revealed that he is the white moderate that MLK warned us about.
I’ll give Rodgers some credit. In a profile by Mina Kimes for ESPN (THE MAGAZINE!!!!), Rodgers got it right when he said, “I think he [Kaepernick] should be on a roster right now. I think because of his protests, he’s not.”
But like I said—“some credit”—as in partial.
Partial because Rodgers is woke enough to know what is right, but seems unaware that anything is required beyond that. Partial because in the rest of the quote, he proceeds to take a stance that’s so half-assed it’s worthy of a seat in the U.S. Senate.
“I’m gonna stand because that’s the way I feel about the flag — but I’m also 100 percent supportive of my teammates or any fellow players who are choosing not to. They have a battle for racial equality. That’s what they’re trying to get a conversation started around.”
In a game where coaches constantly urge players to give 100% (or even the mathematically impossible 110%), I have to think Rodgers knows he’s not doing his best here. I mean, wouldn’t 100% support be kneeling too?
And Aaron, what’s with all this “they” talk? Can’t you see that a fight for real justice is everyone’s fight? Not just the people who that justice pertains to?
Therein lies the problem that MLK was talking about. Rodgers knows there is a problem and yet seems uninterested in doing anything but acknowledging it. He knows that Kaepernick’s treatment is unjust and yet seems unwilling to fight for a more just outcome.
Which means his quote should actually read:
“I’m all for fairness as long as it doesn’t affect my life in any way.”
Rodgers’ passive concern is the same kind of hollow promise that keeps issues of race in America (a.k.a. the NFL) from being solved in faster and more meaningful ways. I mean, it’s 2017 and a black man can’t be mad about cops killing people without losing his job?
Obviously not. And obviously the league is this way for one simple reason: No one else at that job – not a single person in a position of power – is willing to do anything to change it.
Shout out to Chris Long.
To see how these groups would react to a kneeling Aaron Rodgers would undoubtedly start the “conversation” he knows is necessary. And it would make the arguments on Kaepernick’s side even harder to dismiss or ignore.
In a country where too often discussions about race devolve into accusations of competing self-interest (“You’re just out for black people, so why should I care if I’m only out for white people?”)—it’s the inaction of white moderates that doubles as tacit consent of our nation’s white supremacy.
In a league where old white men control the majority of the wealth; where they lie to the black and white working class, leaving them to suffer as the league profits—Rodgers has the chance to make an incredibly meaningful gesture of solidarity. One that could strengthen bonds and benefit everyone when it comes time to negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement.
In other words, Rodgers has the chance to put the needs of his NFL brothers above his own. For no other reason than it’s the right thing to do. For nothing but the benefit of a greater good.
Every Sunday, Aaron Rodgers could take a knee because Colin Kaepernick can’t.
Talk about a league worthy of an MLK quote.