America’s No. 1 television show is back. This week marks the triumphant return of the NFL, which consistently rakes in millions of passionate viewers across the nation. Rabid fans flock to their couches with decades-old jerseys, cherished lucky charms and their pored-over fantasy rosters to watch the epic match-ups of the weekend.
However, this year one key player won’t be on the field. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract this year, making him a free agent for the 2017-’18 season.
However, despite his impressive resumé, there are no starting position offers in sight.
Last year, Kaepernick made the controversial decision to kneel during the National Anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. He said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
His protest was met with loud opposition, as well as loud praise. Many were appalled by his lack of respect for the flag, and for the lives that have been sacrificed in order to protect it. Others were overcome by his bravery to put his future on the line in order to further such an important social cause.
While there are many in support of Kaepernick, NFL teams are hesitant to sign a player who is so polarizing. Despite Kaepernick’s impressive resumé—he brought the formerly tired 49ers to a Super Bowl after a half season as starting quarterback—NFL front offices are hesitant to sign him because of the backlash they would receive.
The NFL has a huge social influence in this country. Players are idolized; teams are worshipped. It is cowardly for teams to choose not to sign a talented and qualified quarterback because they don’t want to take a stance on an issue that is affecting millions in this country.
Remaining silent on major issues when people’s lives are literally on the line is something that the NFL is unfortunately not new to. In 2014, the NFL famously bumbled Ray Rice’s domestic violence punishment. Rice dragged his then-fiancée’s unconscious body out of an elevator after knocking her out. While he was indicted by a grand jury for third-degree aggravated assault, he was merely suspended for two games by the NFL.
The backlash against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL is still strong for their lack of tact and total insensitivity towards how the league treats domestic violence. Now, the league has cracked down on players accused of violence against their partners, but it continues to be a pandemic issue across the league.
By choosing to ice out Kaepernick because of his social statement, the NFL is siding against millions of people who acknowledge the truth that African-Americans are unfairly discriminated against by law enforcement. While kneeling during the national anthem is a controversial choice, it is protected under the Constitution as free speech and should not get in the way of his talent getting him a starting position for an NFL team.
The NFL should take this moment to realize that their actions regarding Kaepernick will help sway the nation. While some are rightfully angered by Kaepernick’s disrespect towards the flag and those who have fought for it, he is ultimately fighting for an equally valiant cause. By looking at the bigger picture instead of focusing on their profits and season ratings, the NFL could be a part of a national conversation regarding racial inequality, and could perhaps even help to turn the tides and help improve the lives of millions.
Now is not the time for the NFL to sit quietly in the corner, letting the Kaepernick situation play itself out and hopefully be forgotten. It is their opportunity to prove that they care about the wellbeing of the nation, and are willing to use their power and influence in order to help change the climate for the better.
Samantha is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. What are your thoughts on Kaepernick not getting signed? Is his national anthem protest the reason? Does the NFL need to pick a side? Please send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.