By Garry Pierre-Pierre
For the first time in more than 40 years, I did not watch one NFL game over the weekend.
Not even highlights on the news.
I will not watch a football game for the foreseeable future. I’m done. I don’t even follow or listen to the news about the game. I don’t want to get caught up in the hoopla that culminates with a series of games from Thursday to Monday during the season.
In all honesty, I had been weaning myself off of football for the last few years. The sheer brutality of the sport and the human wreckage that it leaves behind began to gnaw at my conscience.
But I watched anyway.
I have seen too many friends and schoolmates, who are former players, endure some of the worst physical conditions to not know that something is terribly awry here. Some of these guys are around my age and they look old and broken down, at a time when they should have been in their prime and enjoying the fruit of their labor. Instead they toil in total obscurity, enduring excruciating pain that we can only imagine.
But the last straw for me was the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who is still not on a NFL roster. The message to the players, who are nearly 70 percent black is clear: Shut up and entertain us you gladiators. We don’t need to know your views on political and social issues. We pay you handsomely to entertain us.
To be sure Kaepernick is no scrub. He led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2013 and was one game shy of a second SB appearance the following season in 2014.
Simply put, he can and should be on a team. His transgression was having the gall to stand up against police transgressions against people of color, particularly black men, who police shoot at alarming rates all over the country.
Last year, he began taking a knee during the singing of the National Anthem prior to the game.
Kaepernick is also a stand-up guy in a league where players are known to run afoul of the law a few times too often. Most of their transgressions are not boycotted by fickle fans and ornery owners. But Kaepernick who has not strayed outside of the law and donates tons of money to charities the world over, is being blackballed. Needless to say that notion is fiercely debated because to admit such thing would put their monopoly in the cross-hairs of Congress.
Last September, Kaepernick pledged $1 million to causes and organizations helping to fight inequality and racial injustice. As of this post, he’s made good on $900,000 of it.
You can follow all of his donations here.
So if people object to athletes taking a stand against social injustice offends some people, their being offended, offends me. I did not come to this point lightly. I have loved the game of football ever since I settled to New York in 1975. The game fascinated me because it was exotic to my impressionable young mind blending brawn with brains. It was watching a bunch of hulking guys involved in a sort of physical chess match. I couldn’t get enough.
Growing up in the New York area, the Giants were (remain) my favorite team, although I plowed through some miserable seasons during my youth. My obsession with the sport grew even more rabid when I left New York for Tallahassee to attend Florida A&M University in 1983. In the South, Football competes with attending church service. During the season, God surely forgave the millions who decided to pray to the lords of the gridiron on a given Sunday, instead of bowing to the Lord.
Not watching football will probably be tough because my fall routine has been set for decades. But as inane as this decision may seem to many, it is a small “sacrifice” to make for a much broader societal issue that is disturbing to all decent people in this country.
I’m one of those people who would go into a funk in February because there was no more football on television. I await impatiently for the draft in May and gobble up whatever marketing buzz the NFL creates to attract fans or to feed our void and emptiness.
I’m heartened to know that I am not alone. Thousands have taken to social media in protest and some have picketed in front of the NFL headquarters in Manhattan.
Recently, Ed Cunningham, a former player and analyst for ESPN and ABC resigned from his envious perch of 20 years saying that he could no longer cheerlead for the carnage that he was witnessing on the field.
Kaepernick is onto something here and that scares the hell out of those Trump loving billionaires. His cause is real. Just last week the media reported on the story of a petrified white woman who was comforted by the police after she was stopped during a DUI traffic stop in July 2016. The woman, who was a passenger in the vehicle, can be heard telling the officer that she did not want to put her hands down to reach for her phone because “I’ve just seen way too many videos of cops —.”
“But you’re not black,” he interrupted. “Remember, we only kill black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right? All the videos you’ve seen, have you seen black people get killed? You have.”
On top of that we have Klansmen and Nazis marching brazenly through the streets of America with near impunity. But let an athlete use his perch to bring attention to these atrocities – he apparently should be punished and punished swiftly.
Kaepernick should be on a NFL roster. And because he’s not, the NFL just lost one fan.