With the 2018 Super Bowl now history, a post-season analysis of the Kaepernick Syndrome – the tendency of players to kneel during the national anthem to express their discontent with racial prejudice in America – is needed. Sadly, the NFL missed a great opportunity to educate owners, players and fans about this racial divide.
Started by San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the syndrome converted a non-political sporting event into a political one.
Professional football has come a long way since it began in 1892. Unfortunately, victim abuse has always been part of the game, either on the field or off.
In football’s early days, the victim group was the players, as little concern existed for their safety or compensation. Not until 1956 did players form a union – the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) – to protect their rights.
Owners, fans and players were impacted by this. Owners, obviously, lost almost unlimited control over individual players; players’ compensation and safety increased; and fans ended up paying more for tickets. But six decades later, a new victim group has emerged.
Today, players demand exorbitant salaries, drastically out of proportion to the benefit society receives from their services. Many irresponsibly father children out of wedlock, refusing to provide financial support. One, Rae Carruth, murdered his girlfriend, eight months pregnant with his child, so as not to impact his lifestyle by paying child support.
Many players believe they are above the law, evidenced by a preponderance of criminal acts ranging from spousal abuse, to selling drugs, to murder – Carruth, unfortunately, not being the only player convicted of same. These players believe they enjoy exalted status, an illusion contributed to in part by worshiping fans.
Sadly, worshiping fans feed players’ exalted status frenzy by failing to hold them accountable for their bad behavior – nor do most owners. Statics show the NFL harbors its share of miscreants – a player is arrested every seven days. Yet, society seems to forgive and forget as long as a player continues to perform well on the gridiron. Leaving them to do so, sans accountability, sends the wrong message to younger fans looking up to them as role models.
Thus, today’s victim group is no longer the players, but the fans.
NFLPA members now enjoy tremendous wealth compared to the average American, living in ivory towers isolated from reality. It is doubtful Kaepernick, after reading about one or two police shootings involving black victims, set out to independently research whether his perceptions about the shootings represented an evolving trend and, if so, whether there were contributing factors, or was just a media effort to give that false impression. Irresponsibly, he simply chose to take a knee during the anthem – timely research be damned.
In November 2017, the NFL met with representatives of 40 players involved in the protest movement, ultimately agreeing to contribute $89 million over a seven-year period to fund social justice causes considered important to African-American communities.
With this deal, the NFL missed an opportunity to focus on the real issues concerning existence of an anti-black bias by police. The NFL should have committed, along with these concerned players, to jointly fund research to study this claim in more detail. This not only would help everyone to better understand the issue but also is where the $89 million funding might best be put to use.
A consequence of a fake and irresponsible news reporting era is inaccurate perceptions as to what is truth and what is fiction. The NFL did not care, so it threw in the towel concerning such perceptions, simply accepting player’s claims as having validity. Fans will again be victimized as ticket costs increase to fund the NFL’s social injustice charitable largesse.
Justifying his actions, Kaepernick 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. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
An NFL study would have proven educational for all by what it might reveal.
A 2016 study reported while a disproportionate number of blacks were killed in police shootings (26 percent compared to blacks only representing 13 percent of the population), they also were disproportionately more likely to be involved in serious crimes by a factor of 4-to-5 times. It noted, “Such a concentration of criminal violence in minority communities means that officers will be disproportionately confronting armed and often resisting suspects in those communities, raising officers’ own risk of using lethal force. …”
A detailed NFL study would have helped players understand that social justice comes hand-in-hand with social responsibility. And, based on the lack of social responsibility of many players, they then would need to look in the mirror, examining how their own social irresponsibility contributes to the problem. Absent such a study, it is easier just to take a knee during the national anthem, disrespecting the flag of a nation committed to racial equality, although not there yet.
President Teddy Roosevelt shared an important linkage between believing in equality and being an American. In 1907 he said, while treating people with equality was not a given, it was “predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American.” He added, “Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all.”
What Roosevelt was basically proffering is that all Americans are of the same tribe and should not endeavor to define themselves by black or white or otherwise. And all tribe members are, therefore, entitled to equal treatment.
Nothing is clearly more representative of the American tribe than our flag and national anthem. It is the symbolic glue that binds us all together, even as we struggle for racial-equality perfection. Kaepernick Syndrome destroys this bond by failing to recognize that the vast majority of tribe members are committed to getting there.
And, an NFL study, discerning fact from fiction, would have helped us all better understand how best to get there.