As you may know, last week the NFL announced that they are banning all on the field demonstrations during the National Anthem – and that any players who take a knee or a seat during the anthem will incur fines and penalties for the team. According to the new policy, players are allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they so choose.
First let me tell you what I think about the policy and then let me tell you about a major development happening among players that has the potential to be a major gamechanger.
I don’t have a major beef with the policy. The NBA actually requires players to stand during the National Anthem. It’s not the policy that the NFL got wrong – it’s how it was rolled out. The NFL Player’s Association, which is an official player’s union, said they were never consulted during the entire process. No player input was given or allowed. And some say the new rule may actually violate their collective bargaining agreement.
Ultimately, I don’t think it’s this new policy that is the greatest injustice, though.
The greatest injustice in the NFL right now is that two players, former San Francisco 49er teammates Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, each of the them elite Pro Bowlers at their positions, have been effectively banned from the NFL because of their peaceful protest. Colin Kaepernick has now been banned from the league for 454 days – having been denied a roster spot all of last season – and now denied a spot well into free agency this season – even as teams begin to sign inexperienced scrubs as the 2nd & 3rd string backups. Literally – over 90 quarterbacks currently have contracts right now and he’s not one of them.
The same is true of his friend and brother Eric Reid. Eric is widely seen as one of the 10 best defensive backs in the NFL. He is only 26 years old, like Colin, he is brilliantly smart, he’s a man of great character and integrity, has not had one single off the field issue, and is as fit, strong, and ready to play, as any person in the league – but he is being denied his chance to make a living for no reason other than the fact that he took a knee during the anthem during every game last season – one of the few players in the league to do so.
I truly believe that what we’re seeing with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid is one of the worst injustices we’ve ever seen in the entire history of American sports. It’s as egregious as Muhammad Ali being banned from boxing for refusing to fight in Vietnam. We may actually need to add Tre Boston to this list as well.
Tre, another 25 year old defensive back in the NFL, was 5th in the league last year in interceptions. He was also one of the most conscious and outspoken players about injustice and police brutality. Like Reid & Kaepernick, Tre also has impeccable character and integrity on the field and off, but is being denied a spot on an NFL roster. This was literally supposed to be the year that both he and Eric Reid received their biggest contracts ever – instead, neither has even been offered the league minimum. It’s outrageous.
And in response to this – several NFL players contacted me this weekend to share that they are very seriously considering organizing a player strike to demonstrate to team owners just how wrong it is that world class athletes are clearly being penalized for their peaceful demonstrations and willingness to speak out against police brutality and racial violence in America.
The players told me it is the very first time in their lives they’ve ever seriously considered organizing a strike, but that the NFL team owners have set a very dangerous precedent here by effectively banning qualified players from the league for standing against injustice. The players told me they feel like they would need to get hundreds of other players to join them in order for it to be effective.
It won’t be easy to organize. As much as NFL players get paid, like anybody else they too actually need their paychecks to take care of their responsibilities and the prospect of missing those checks is the #1 barrier to this strike.
Dozens of players have now told me that seeing what has happened to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, in their words, has “spooked” players across the league and has basically had the intended effective of striking fear into them – wondering if they, too, will be banned if they take a knee or even stay in the locker room or simply speak out firmly against police brutality.
I don’t know if the players can make the strike happen, but either way, I’m refusing to watch a single game again this season. I know and love so many men who put their lives on the line in this league, and hate to do this, but I cannot, in good conscience, support this league while it penalizes players who stood up for their beliefs.