NFL Blackballing Colin Kaepernick Amplifies The Importance Of National Anthem Protests

After taking a knee, Kaepernick now stands for something much bigger

San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold, left, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, center, and safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Last Thursday, Houston Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson tore his ACL in practice. Watson has been sensational to this point, helping turn the Texans into true contenders in their conference and one of the scariest teams in football. Watson, if you’re not a football fan, is a strong-armed quarterback with all the agility of a running back or wide receiver. While he can sling the ball around the field, he’s also extremely dangerous when he chooses to tuck the ball and run with it.

Fortunately for the Texans, there just happens to be a guy in free agency with that exact skill set. So naturally, the Texans signed two quarterbacks who have been unemployed since the preseason and couldn’t out-run a gimpy turtle. Unsurprisingly, the Texans then proceeded to lose on Sunday in embarrassing fashion to the lowly Indianapolis Colts.

And so Colin Kaepernick — who has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, thrown for over 70 touchdowns to only 30 interceptions, and has rushed for over 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns — loses out to two guys who have thrown a combined 17 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, and less than 100 yards rushing between the two.

Stop telling me this is about football.

Kaepernick, whose national anthem protests have bled into a larger conversation (even drawing the ire of Donald Trump and pizza-lookalike chain owner Papa John) continues to watch his career be destroyed simply for taking a stand.

You know, so to speak.

While largely serving as a distraction for Trump and his apologist fanbase, the anthem protests do bring up a larger question — what exactly should be the rights of employees to protest at work?

Constitutionally speaking, there are none. The First Amendment’s right to protest protects citizens only from the government, not private employers. States have implemented varying levels of protections for employees, but none explicitly stating that employees have the right to political protests in the workplace.

It makes sense, for the most part. Political protests in your office would be largely pointless and a distraction. Chanting “White Lives Matter” or “Not My President” while kneeling at your Varidesk isn’t exactly a practical solution to anything.

It cannot be said that the same scenario applies to something like the NFL and its players. The players protesting during the national anthem are not creating a disturbance, nor are they impeding workplace productivity. While technically “on the clock,” they haven’t really begun working until kickoff.

Several New England Patriots players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

No team has lost a game because their players did or didn’t kneel beforehand, nor can it be proved that the anthem protests have had any effect on television ratings. While it’s indisputable that the NFL’s ratings are indeed down, it’s also worth pointing out that television ratings overall are down — and the NFL is still doing better than most.

Players do not consider the demonstrations a distraction. Only the media, the owners, and Trump apologists are distracted by it. You will note none of those people are actually on the field. None of them will be throwing, catching, blocking, tackling, kicking, or running, so what they believe is a distraction is pointless and irrelevant.

In fact, players have said the attempts to stop the protests are distracting than the demonstrations themselves, as the Pittsburgh Steelers discovered this season.

So, again, what is the problem?

For most, the problem is the demonstration is working. A CBS/YouGov poll found that 73 percent of those asked believed the protests were to call attention to racism, while 69 percent believed they were about police brutality. Despite Trump, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and guy-who-melts-cheese-over-play-doh Papa John (the official pizza provider of the alt-right!), the conversation regarding the cause of the protests persists. When these people speak out over the protests, it forces people to look into — or forces the media to mention — what exactly they’re protesting. For better or worse, this leads to a conversation.

And therein lies the difference between NFL players — or anyone with a national platform — protesting at work versus you marching in to your job at Subway and refusing to make any sandwiches with white bread. Your protests have disrupted the workplace and accomplished nothing otherwise, whereas the protests started by Kaepernick have led to a larger discussion. That discussion is taking place on television, on ESPN pre-game shows, cable news, the halls of Congress, all the way to the dinner table.

With a camera pointed on them and the simple act of kneeling at the right time, these players — led by Kaepernick’s example — have started a national dialogue that will not go away so long as they continue their peaceful demonstration. The only people this hurts are the ones who will already find themselves on the wrong side of history.

Kaepernick was never going to be a Hall of Fame quarterback. It was unlikely he would be remembered solely for his play as there have been many above-average quarterbacks to come before him. However, this demonstration has cemented his place as a difference-maker in a way he likely never imagined. His personal short-comings aside (not voting, the cops-as-pigs socks, the Fidel Castro t-shirt, etc.), Kaepernick has started something larger than himself, larger than the NFL, and larger than a few influential racists who ignorantly believe they can bully away a much-needed look in the mirror for America’s justice system and society as a whole.

Opinion // Football / NFL / Politics / Sports