By Eric T. Pate, For The African-American Athlete
The National Football League regular-season is upon us and just like the preseason, I won’t watch – on television, on my iPhone, or in person. I will live my lyrics and not patronize the NFL.
For the first time in 30 years as a sportswriter, and for as long as I can remember, the NFL will not be a part of my fall and winter. As a diehard Detroit Lions fan, and someone that covered the team during the Barry Sanders Era, it won’t be hard either.
You see, police brutality takes precedence over a league where domestic violence, criminal activity and other grave misconduct is validated, and First Amendment rights are overlooked.
This is also the same league where N.F.L. stands for Not For Long, while Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, better known as CTE, are acronyms that aren’t spoken around NFL properties.
My protest stems from my support of Colin Kaepernick, an able-bodied free agent quarterback who boldly went where no man had gone before him last season by taking a knee during the national anthem.
Kaepernick protested police brutality, which has claimed the lives of many people that happen to Black over the past several years, including Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile, just to name a few. Though each case was investigated, none of the three earned a conviction of a cop for wrongdoing.
Hence, Kaepernick’s silent protest.
Kaepernick’s protest began in last preseason, extended into the middle of the regular season, and has landed him on the unemployment line. Thirty-two NFL teams have decided to look elsewhere instead of signing a quarterback with Super Bowl experience.
As a starter, Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers – his former team – to Super Bowl XLVII, losing to the
Baltimore Ravens, 34-29. For his career, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards to go along with 72 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Last season, Kaepernick’s 1.2 interception percentage was sixth in the NFL, behind the likes of Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Sam Bradford, Derek Carr and Aaron Rodgers.
Despite his gaudy numbers and versatile ability as a dual-threat quarterback, Kaepernick has remained unsigned.
Moreover, there are 24 other quarterbacks, many of whom aren’t nearly as accomplished, that have been signed as free-agents. If the names David Fales, Dan Orlovsky or Ryan Nassib don’t ring a bell, do not feel bad; they are among the most little accomplished quarterbacks in this notorious lot that have already been signed.
Still no calls for Kaepernick, who did take a visit to see the Seattle Seahawks last spring but ultimately, its management chose not to sign him; might’ve been too much of a threat to starter Russell Wilson, they said.
For whatever reason, Kaepernick has become threatening to the country, too. And all he wants is to get all interested parties to the table – the police, citizens, politicians.
Kaepernick’s philanthropic efforts are those that only a charitable organizer could love. According to SB Nation, Kaepernick has donated $700,000 of his $1 million pledge to 24 different organizations. Helping Oppressed Mothers Endure (HOME), Assata’s Daughters and Grassroots Leadership.
Usually, NFL teams are pleased to see such an outpouring of gifts into the community, and are quick to claim the freehearted athlete as “theirs”. However, this is no ordinary case as Kaepernick has been much maligned, even more than Scrooge on Christmas Day.
Some of Kaepernick’s biggest critics have come from within the NFL ranks. Black players, who felt it more valiant to speak against Kaepernick than support him. From Jim Brown virtually calling Kaepernick’s actions “un-American”, to Ray Lewis asking if Kaepernick wanted to be “an activist or a football player’’, to Michael Vick suggesting that Kaepernick “cut his hair’’.
To be sure, Kaepernick has taken his fair share of slings and arrows.
The tie that binds me to Kaepernick is fraternal. Like Kaepernick, I am a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., just as Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin; Caldwell and Tomlin represent 1/16th of the NFL coaching ranks, and though they might have a major voice in personnel matters, upper management – and in this case, ownership – definitely have the final say.
Though neither have signed Kaepernick, Caldwell was complimentary when asked about Kaepernick in May, saying, “I coached against him in the Super Bowl (XLVII)…He can still play.’’
For me, this is enough to earn my support because in my 33 years as a Nupe, brotherhood has always been the main reason why I pledged in the first place.
So, as you nestle in for the next 20-plus weeks of watching the NFL in person or otherwise, I’ll pass. Or, I’m pitching a shutout against the NFL.
(Eric T. Pate is a Detroit-based sportswriter who has worked for several large newspapers, including Booth Newspapers and the Michigan Chronicle. He has also covered five Super Bowls, three Final Fours and two NBA Finals)