The NFL. To watch, or not to watch?

As the NFL prepares for the 2017 season, football fans all over the country have voiced differing opinions on player protests, and the NFL’s stance on social issues. Last season, Colin Kaepernick began a silent protest against social issues which he felt affected African Americans and other People of Color. Part of his protest was taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. I really don’t feel like rehashing the whole thing, but as expected, there was a strong reaction. Fans on both sides of this issue have been VERY vocal in their support or condemnation of ‘Kaep. During the offseason period of NFL free agency signings, Colin Kaepernick went unsigned to an NFL roster. Other QB’s with less experience, and in some cases inferior talent, have been signed, and will have an opportunity to play in the NFL. Kaepernick (at least at the time of this writing), will not. As a result, some fans have decided to boycott Professional football this season.

Ultimately, some fans  will have to decide whether or not they will join the NFL boycott. But from where I’m sitting, it’s WAY more complex than simply deciding to not watching games. As with most complex issues, there’s a reasonable argument for it AND against it. Let’s discuss.

For those who support a boycott, it’s easy to see the reason. It definitely appears that Kaepernick not getting signed is a league-wide decision, it’s quite telling that NO team, even those starved for QB’s, has signed him. He once led his team to a Super Bowl berth, and played well in the process. However, coaching changes (which usually lead to new offensive schemes, personnel changes, and so forth) contributed to the decline in his productivity. Eventually he was benched, and at the end of the 2016 he declined a player option to re-sign with San Francisco, and thus decided to become a free agent. Nobody signed him, or even invited him into training camp or a workout. He’s not a Hall of Fame QB, but he’s not the worst guy that ever played either. Over his six-year NFL career, line is 12,271 passing yards, 85 TD’s (72 passing, 13 rushing), and a career QB rating of 88.9. Respectable numbers to say the least. Without question, he’s definitely one of the more athletic QB’s in the league. Several players have even said in interviews that he should still be playing in the league.  Some people would say that the owners and GM’s have conspired to keep him out of the league based on his personal politics. If this IS the case, then a boycott is a good way for the fans to express their displeasure. The whole “we only want men of character in our locker room” argument rings hollow. The NFL has allowed players who have had repeated run-ins with the law to play. Without going into a lot of detail, there are drug and alcohol abusers, (alleged) perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence, and all around horrible people on NFL rosters (coaches and front office personnel too). From the outside looking in, the NFL is ok with bad behavior as long as the player competes at a high level. Marginal or subpar players don’t merit the same benefit of the doubt. Colin Kaepernick hasn’t committed any crimes, and based what I’ve seen and heard, he seems to be a pretty decent guy. He’s given his time and money to various charities and other causes. On paper, this is a guy that the NFL should be proud of, right? He’s a TRUE man of character. He has principles, and has stood up for those principles. The NFL brass doesn’t see it that way.  One argument I’ve heard is “he’s not worth the distraction”. So, apparently, wife beaters are ok, but politically active players are somehow a ‘distraction’. Basically, it looks as if the NFL is telling the players “if you engage in politics or social issues, you’re going to pay a heavy price”. The NFL hasn’t helped itself by keeping silent on this whole thing. In a league comprised mostly of Black players, the issues Kaepernick spoke on (poverty, racial profiling, underserved communities, police brutality, etc.) are definitely issues the players themselves face off the field. So the NFL should, at the very least, listen to *WHY* he’s protesting, and why some of the players are joining him. Again, no official statements from NFL execs have been made. The silence is deafening. There are quite a few reasons that fans are fed up with the NFL; rising ticket prices, lack of minority ownership, few people of color in management in front office positons, not offering guaranteed contracts, and of course the NFL’s lack of concern regarding CTE and the health and well-being of former players. ALL of these are good reasons to support an NFL Boycott. Fans are saying “hit ‘em in the pocket”, and it makes total sense to try. For those who have grown weary of billionaires  ignoring the social issues that happen off the playing field (and affect much of their fan base), enough is enough. A boycott is an easy solution.

On the other hand, some would say the NFL Boycott is a bit misguided. Why? Well, for starters, the NFL is HUGE. It’s not just a sports league. It’s a corporate giant. An entity, if you will. The phrase “too big to fail” is a bit overused these days, but the NFL is a good example of it. Tickets and TV time have already been sold, so not watching (especially if you don’t have a Nielsen Box or a cable connection to track what you’re watching) won’t really hurt the NFL. Pretty much EVERY NFL game is a sellout. There are only eight home games per season, per team, so tickets are already in hand; most were sold months, if not years ago, not counting the thousands of fans on waiting lists. Even if you aren’t watching, upwards of sixty thousand people are at every game, spending tons of money. Each game generates millions. The NFL also has many corporate partners, who are a part of your daily life whether you realize it or not. Even people who don’t like or even watch Pro Football use goods and services from companies that have working relationships with the NFL. Credit card companies, Software and Technology companies, banks, telephone service providers, delivery services, automobile manufacturers, and food and drink companies all sponsor the NFL; and that’s just on a national level. If you’re reading this on your phone, chances are your service provider has a relationship with the NFL. If you’re reading it on a desktop or laptop, the companies that make and sell these devices DEFINITELY do. It’s a bit tricky to say you’re boycotting the NFL but still using “The Official so-and-so of The NFL” on a daily basis. It’s somewhat hypocritical. It’s not your fault, but it’s a reality. Also, what about all the cottage industries that exist because of the NFL? Can we still boycott the league and still participate in Fantasy Football leagues? Do we have to stop going to restaurants and bars that show NFL games? Do we watch ESPN and other sports networks with an interest in broadcasting NFL highlights, and other related NFL content? How far must we go to consider it successful or impactful?

Here’s another thing; what are we actually boycotting: the NFL itself, or the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick? If he gets signed, is the boycott over?  The issues he was protesting are still at hand, so how will Kaep getting back under center make it all go away? I honestly can’t recall any direct comments from him supporting (or calling for) a boycott. Are we even sure this is what he wants? One could argue that he’d rather we show up at the games and be vocal about our displeasure. What if the NFL comes out and says: “ok, he’s right. We’ll launch a new initiative to blah,blah,blah…”. Is the boycott over at THAT point? Do we stay away until we actually *see* some change? It’s a bit sticky, right?

Another moving part to the whole thing is the fate of athletes, coaches, and front office personnel themselves. Aside from the Entertainment business, I’m pretty sure that Professional Football has created more millonaires in the Black community than just about any other field of work. I’m not saying its generational wealth by any means, but where else can a 21 year old kid take home millions of dollars (and help his family) in such a short amount of time? Now factor in all the Black coaches, support staff, sportscasters, journalists etc. Like it or not, the NFL creates opportunity for a lot of Black people and other people of color. If we “hit ‘em in the pocket”, does that ‘hit’ affect these people? Will it endanger their jobs? That’s something to think about.

I’m a die-hard football fan. The NFL is my favorite sport, and pretty much has been all my life. I HATE being in the middle of all of this. As a Black man in America, I feel an obligation to support Colin Kaepernick, because he’s standing up for what’s right. People need to listen and understand where he’s coming from, and protests will help make sure his message is heard. On the other hand, I find many of the arguments in favor of the boycott to be convoluted and rooted in personal politics, rather than facts. I’ve heard very strong language on both sides. Name calling, insults, personal attacks, you name it. Friendships have been fractured over this whole thing. It’s a lot to take in. The fact that I’m writing this means that I *literally* have a reason to watch. No NFL, no column. Sure, I write about other sports, but the majority of my focus is on football, specifically NFL football. So yeah, I could cop out and say I HAVE to watch. Would that be a self-serving lame excuse? Sure. But it’s my reality. I’m ready for any blowback that I get. That’s where I am right now. I want to watch, but I know I probably shouldn’t. Giving up something you need is what makes a boycott work. Giving up something you need also sucks.

Fortunately, it’s still pre-season, so I have a little more time to decide what I’m going to do. I can’t say one way or the other.  I’m torn. My love of sports shouldn’t make me abandon my principles. What kind of person would I be? When people ask me if I’m boycotting, I tell them I honestly don’t know. In their minds, I’m sure it makes me look indecisive, or not committed to The Cause. But like I said, that’s the honest truth. I haven’t decided yet. It’s even more problematic if I ask people for their opinions, because nothing good would come of it. It would just lead to more debate. It’s all a big mess, and I hate that I have no simple solution that would satisfy everybody (including myself). I can watch the NCAA to get my football fix, but that’s not the point, right? Maybe I’ll just flip a coin.

To be continued…

-SH

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About: Sean Haley

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Native Chicagoan, born and raised. I represent all things Chicago ( Bears, Bulls, White Sox, Fire, Fighting Illini). I speak my mind, but I keep it humorous. Sometimes I'm right, other times you're wrong. I like everything you hate, and vice versa. I might sound like a jerk, but I'm a really nice guy. We can discuss it, though.

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