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Monday, September 17, 2018
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It appears to me that Nike has taken over the role once played by the Catholic Church, in that it can decide who is to be honored within the temple of progressivism with secular sainthood. Obviously, the latest one to be canonized is Colin Kaepernick. In the Nike liturgy of the saints, Kaepernick will be remembered for sacrificing his unfolding career as a highly talented NFL quarterback by publicly protesting police violence against African Americans and other forms of racism in our nation, thorough his practice of “taking a knee” during the playing of the national anthem at the start of a game.

This practice was started by Kaepernick, but soon spread to players in almost every team in the league. In general, it was not received well by the NFL’s white game viewers. One source indicates that about 70% of NFL players are black, whereas about 70% of NFL game viewers are white (by comparison, the US population is 61% white; as to blacks, they make up 16% of NFL viewership but 12% of the population; Hispanic and Asian-Americans together make up 24% of the population, but only 13% of NFL viewership).

By 2017, it was clear that a lot fewer whites were tuning in on NFL games; TV rating trends were clearly on the decline, and big money was being lost. The first two weeks of the 2018 NFL season are showing mixed viewing results, however.

Therefore, according to the Nike litany, NFL officials and team owners banded together to make sure that Kaepernick is forever barred from playing again, even though his talents clearly exceed those of many other currently active NFL quarterbacks. In sum, Kaepernick epitomizes the Nike creed “believe in something, even if it means losing everything”.

Personally, I’m not sure that I buy into the Colin Kaepernick hagiography. First off, let me say that I entirely agree that there are too many police incidents involving mis-treatment of African Americans, that too many of those incidents are fatal, and that this is an American social crisis that needs continued public attention. [With the caveat that not every incident of a police officer shooting an unarmed black citizen is as cut-and-dried as is first presented; some victims are not just non-cooperative with police, but outwardly hostile and threatening, e.g. Michael Brown in Fegruson — but I also agree that too many police “go to guns” too quickly.]

I don’t deny that what Kaepernick was addressing is important. I do not agree with those who say that major sporting events are not the place to protest injustice. I do not object to black players kneeling on-field during the national anthem. It’s much better than their simply staying off the field, as the proposed new NFL guidelines would allow as a substitute for kneeling. They are doing something very American, i.e. participating in a pubic exchange regarding an important governmental issue. NFL presents itself as the modern American public square. If so, then they had better be ready for some modern American free expression.

But as to Kaepernick being punished by a conspiracy of white football team owners . . . things get very complicated in unpacking that notion. Kaepernick played with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016, but left the team for free agency in early 2017. He had two good years, 2012 and 2013, with 5-2 and 12-4 win-loss records respectively. He went 8-8 in 2014, then went downhill from there; 2-6 in 2015, and 1-10 in 2015. At age 30, he is still healthy enough to play for another team. However, he was not picked up as a free agent in 2017, and it doesn’t look as though any teams are going to sign him in 2018.

Is this because he has been “black-listed” by the owners? Or is it that he just isn’t as good as other available quarterbacks? The Washington Post published statistics in 2017 that purported to show that Kaepernick is actually better in many respects than many first-string team quarterbacks, including Eli Manning, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and Marcus Mariotta. But the Post did not seem absolutely confident in that analysis, and thus published some other stats around the same time claiming that Kaepernick is still better than at least half of the NFL’s back-up QB’s – including Nick Foles of the Eagles.

Even the back-up argument seems a bit hard to swallow after watching the stand-up job that Foles did for the Eagles in Superbowl LII in February, 2018. Statistics are much like legal arguments, they can be flexibly crafted. Perhaps a more detailed analysis of actual play can be useful.

One analysis of Kaepnick’s playing style indicates weakness in the pocket; inability to run-and-gun (he needs time to set himself up and read the field anew after scrambling, he can’t make decisions on the run like the better QB’s do); and an inflexibility of throwing style (Kaepernick’s almost exclusive dependence on longer high-speed throws, which is compared to a golfer with one big wood club but no chippers or putters for short-range options).

It is also possible that Kaepernick’s initial success (his good season in 2011 and his Superbowl season in 2012) may have been partly due to an overall offense revolution going on at the time, i.e. offensive coaches allowing more flexible ‘real-time’ QB decision-making after the snap, including read-option plays. Kaepernick allegedly was quite good at this, and it may have thrown the defense teams and coaches off-kilter. But after a year or two, the defenses are said to have adapted. However, other analysts argue that Kaepernick’s tendency to leave the pocket quickly is a strength (makes him an “electrifying playmaker”), and that his avoidance of run-and-gun prudently protects the ball from turnover in the event of a sack, and his strong arm for longer throws is 90% of a QB’s work anyway.

Since Kaepernick became a free agent, two teams reportedly showed interest and held discussions with him — the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks held discussions twice, first before the 2017-18 season and earlier this year, before the 2018-19 season. However, both teams ultimately passed Kaepernick up. There are published rumors that the owners and management of these teams required Kaepernick to promise that he would not kneel again during the anthem and walked away after Kaepernick refused. But it may not be that simple, given that both teams have players who have kneeled repeatedly, and who are still playing.

Kaepernick has a lawsuit pending against the NFL for collusion in excluding him, and a court trial is now expected. All I can say is that the lawyers, judge and jury will certainly have their work cut out for them in deciding that one!

Personally, I have more respect for Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles, a kneeler who is trying to define what the players are protesting with their knees. Jenkins is communicating with the owners and the league to express and publicize “the black point of view”, and is actively involved with social justice efforts. According to the New York Times, Jenkins banded together with other concerned players (calling themselves the “Players Coalition”) and visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in statehouses; went to prisons and bail hearings, meeting with police commissioners and public defenders along with activists trying to help the incarcerated; wrote op-ed pieces and letters to legislators and spoke on television; and lobbied the 32 team owners and the NFL Commissioner to provide around $90 million for programs combating social inequality. Jenkins also convinced the NFL to support a “Lets Listen Together” program to improve police and community relations, reform the criminal justice system, and help provide better education and more economic advancement in disadvantaged communities.

By comparison, Kaepernick has gone to games wearing socks embroidered with pigs wearing police hats, and he financially supports a non-profit group honoring a woman (Assata Shakur aka Joanne Chesimard) who was convicted of shooting and killing a NJ State Trooper in 1973. Jenkins and other black leaders continue to call for a national conversation on race, and are active in making it happen despite the racial fault line that the NFL straddles. Kaepernick helps to shut that conversation down with his anti-police insults. For now, it appears that Kaepernick is satisfied to bask in the glow of his swoosh-shaped halo, letting his lawyers make the case before a jury that Nike’s faith in him was justified.

Here’s a parting side-note about taking a knee at a football game. Former Denver QB Tim Tebow took a knee in various NFL games in 2011, five years before Kaepernick started. Tebow, who is white, did not kneel during the national anthem, but nonetheless he did so prior to a game in a fashion clearly visible to the audience. As with Kaepernick, Tebow was expressing a controversial belief that was important to him. Tebow’s belief involves the existence of God. Here is a quote from Tebow: “Sports can be an opportunity, hopefully used the right way, to be able to share certain things you believe in.”

Some people say that prayer is very different from what Kaepernick and the black players are using their knees for. But when personal prayer becomes a public expression within a nationwide media arena, as Tebow intended, it takes on a political dimension. So in some respects anyway, Tebow’s NFL kneeling did indeed anticipate the black knee movement.

Another similarity — soon after his magic season with Denver in 2011 (leading the Broncos from a 1-4 start to winning the AFC West title and defeating the Steelers in a playoff wildcard game), Tebow could no longer hold a job as an NFL QB. Given that Christian prayer on the field has not been nearly as controversial as black protests against police violence, it’s fairly certain that Tebow’s situation stemmed from a mismatch between his sports abilities and what the teams are currently looking for. It’s not impossible that this ultimately holds for Kaepernick too . . . as with Kaepernick, Tebow’s QB skills were somewhat eclectic. Tim Tebow worked effectively as a QB under one particular team and coach in one particular time, but was not generally effective in other places and times. So he wound up in baseball.

Hey, perhaps that’s not a bad idea for Kaepernick — he has a powerful arm and lanky legs, really looks more like a baseball guy (to me, anyway). If he had the guts to take a knee in some sweaty AAA farm league stadium out in Iowa or Kansas, i.e. those small stadiums where fans can throw beer at you from their cups, then I would agree that Kaepernick really has earned his Nike canonization !!!

And PS – let’s not forget Nike’s own sins regarding working conditions at its third world production facilities. Nike supposedly swore off sweatshops about a decade ago, but activists say that it went back to its old habits not long after that. However, to be fair, Nike recently reversed its position on barring independent monitors from the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) to monitor its subcontracted factories, in response to renewed protests.

But where was Colin Kaepernick and his knee when these anti-Nike protests were happening?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm      

  1. Jim, I have no business writing a comment on this post for the simple reason I know nothing much about football except the basic concepts. I only know them because at one point in the 1980s, I think it was, the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl. They had some great players: Walter Payton (Sweetness himself), Jim McMahon, and some others; Mike Ditka might (not sure about this) have coached them, and after that, I lost track of the Bears, to say nothing of any other players in any other teams. I might hear their names but that’s about all.

    I do know there was/is a controversy about head injuries and other injuries that can maim a man for life, and I wonder is it worth the money they pay the players to play a few years and then spend the rest of their lives “hurting” one way or the other as a result of the injuries they suffered in the few years they played.

    So, when I read this post, I could not quite believe what I was reading and had to ask a man I know who knows and follows sports carefully. He assured me that, yes, it was true: Colin Kaepernick is not on a team and at present does not play football; an astonishing thing, it seems to me, that anyone should therefore give him the least bit of attention when it comes to the game of football. I wonder what it is I’m missing other than that Mr. Kaepernick is Black and is making some Black protest. However, it does not seem that his protest is getting enough attention; I wonder how many people there are like me who do not know what the protest is about except that the president does not seem to want him to genuflect when the country’s anthem is sung at the beginning of a football game. Perhaps Mr. Kaepernick is “taking a knee” during the singing of the country’s anthem to be paid by Nike for the advertising he is giving them. One might think that “taking a knee” might be considered a mark of reverence. But then, I am old and perhaps that is just where the problem for me lies.

    Strangely enough, it seems his “old time” genuflection, which was about the only way one could get into a pew in a Catholic Church even in the 1960s that Mr. Kaepernick adopted when the country’s anthem was sung seemed to be an irreverence toward the flag and the anthem instead of a sign of reverence. Seems even those born in the late 1940s do not remember the old genuflection, altho why would the president, he doesn’t seem to go to church now, much less have visited a Catholic Church as a child.

    Now it seems the president doesn’t have enough on his hands with problems with various countries, problems with hurricanes in two separate years, treaties, tariffs, and whatnot, he has to take offense at a man who is not playing football, who it seems nobody wants to hire; but the president does seem to need a distraction to draw attention away from special prosecutor problems and other problems mentioned.

    What seems astonishing to me is that anybody would pay any attention to someone who is not on any team, who does not presently play football, and who it seems no one wants to pay him to play football. Why even bother with giving the whole business any attention at all? The whole fuss seems to boggle my mind. And somewhere in here I find I am repeating myself. So I guess I will have to leave this intense controversy. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — September 20, 2018 @ 5:55 am

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