Dear NFL players,
You don’t know me, but I know you.
I’ve watched and admired you guys for years and years. You have provided consistent entertainment for many, many Sundays throughout my life, allowing me to distract myself from problems big and small and instead root for my team that’s never been able to win that elusive Super Bowl title.
But, that’s ok, because I’ve been able to admire your individual talents, draft some of you en route to a few fantasy football titles, and even been caught up in the soap opera that is your private lives and free agency.
But, I’m conflicted now. Disappointed, actually. I and other fans wonder if we should continue to support you or the NFL any longer.
This whole Colin Kaepernick thing has caused me to look at you guys in a different light. I looked at you as leaders on and off the field, but it turns out I was wrong.
There is no excuse for the way Colin Kaepernick has been allowed to be blackballed by the NFL owners and the league. And it is not the owners’ fault, it is yours.
Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem for most of you and your families (African Americans currently make up 70% of NFL players). It is easy to forget when you hear cries that Kaepernick was being unpatriotic, that he was actually protesting on behalf of Americans who were being killed or violently mistreated. Yes, Americans.
The silence and indifference from many of you has been deafening. It has also been hurtful and eye-opening to many fans, like me.
The current plight of Kaepernick — out of a job, despite clearly being one of the top 32 quarterbacks in the world –should be placed squarely on your shoulders, not the owners’.
Owners have different objectives, cultural viewpoints and come from a different generation than you all do. While it is wrong for NFL owners to shun Kaepernick due to political differences or misguided “business decisions” (Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers jersey was actually a top seller during his protest, debunking the often-used excuse that Kaepernick was bad for business), it is not at all surprising that a group of rich, white NFL franchise owners acted in this way. It is predictable. Which is why you all should have been prepared to stand or kneel with Kaepernick from the start, since again, he was protesting for you.
I understand that speaking out is not easy. It is hard. It is as hard as making a one-handed catch while keeping both feet inbounds. It takes practice, practice you have not had because you have been taught to stay away from controversy ever since you began working towards a career as a professional athlete.
But any fear of speaking out as a group is misplaced. You don’t know the power you possess. You are the game and the entertainment, not the owners. The fans (customers) want and will demand to see the best of the best, and we know who they are. Many of us remember scab football during the 1987 strike year, and we’re not trying to witness that again.
However, if one man is left to hang out there by himself, it becomes much easier for the powers that be to make an example of him and create a chilling effect that would not be possible with broader player support.
There were some of you, such as Brandon Marshall and Malcolm Jenkins who supported Kaepernick and continue to speak out publicly today. Richard Sherman has been vocal, as well. I appreciate their words and the words of others who recognize that what’s happening to Kaepernick is a danger to players’ rights and the rights of us all.
But I need more if I am to continue to watch on Sundays and support your league. There are too many of you willing to say nothing in order to keep playing the game and getting a check. Many of you profess a want to achieve greatness, but true greatness goes beyond the game.
There are statues of John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Muhammad Ali is immortal more because of what he was willing to speak out about than even his immense talent as a boxer. The 1967 Cleveland Summit and its picture are historic because other great athletes had the courage to speak out about what was right, rather than leave Ali hanging by himself. There aren’t too many statues of people who were afraid to seize their moment in history.
So I really would like to continue to watch and enjoy football and continue to do my part to financially support the shield, as they say. But, in order to do so for much longer, I need you all to step up and support causes that are bigger than the game.
Recently, New York Jets’ rookie safety Jamal Adams responded to questions about CTE and league safety by saying “I’m all about making the game safer… But, I can speak for a lot of other guys that play the game. We live and breathe it and this is what we’re so passionate about. Literally, I would — if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field.”
I get what Adams meant, though it was clearly insensitive to the subject matter. However, Green Bay Packers’ tight end Martellus Bennett’s response hit it on the head when he tweeted: “I hope all these young cats that are willing to die for the game of football find a higher purpose in life.”
Standing with Kaepernick and the cause he has taken up, or at least against league retribution towards him, is one of those higher purposes.
I, along with many other fans, implore you to use your collective power to fight against the league’s unfair treatment of Colin Kaepernick.
A Concerned American
Jamal Murphy is a contributor to CBS Local. He writes extensively about college basketball, the NBA and other sports, often focusing on the intersection of sports and social justice/awareness. Listen to Jamal on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast (iTunes & Soundcloud) that he cohosts with legendary sports columnist, Bill Rhoden. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @Blacketologist.