After San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick embarked on a “national anthem protest” against police brutality, the NFL and the 49ers stated that participation in the pre-game ceremony was not a league or a team requirement.
That meant it was voluntary.
But did headlines state, “Quarterback didn’t volunteer for pre-game ritual for personal reasons…” Of course not, it was promoted as a protest. Kaepernick was transformed from athlete to activist, but his symbolic gesture generated a national debate about free expression instead of the reality Kaepernick wanted to bring to the forefront.
Kaepernick had no control over the narrative from the start. (The price of spontaneity or a rookie mistake.)
The NFL went back to business and left Kaepernick’s fate to the public.
Some fans supported him and some fans burned his jersey. (Fan is short for fanatic, and fanaticism is dangerous in all of its forms, add something unpatriotic to that fuel and business feels the heat.)
But regardless of the controversy over whether or not Kaepernick was right or wrong, the fact remained that not participating in an optional activity is not a protest.
It’s just non-participation.
And pretending that it was something beyond that may be the biggest factor why he wasn’t picked up by another NFL team.
The owner of the New York Giants made some comments concerning the hypothetical possibility of signing Kaepernick that upset a lot of Kaepernick supporters. The Giants owner said he would be concerned about backlash from Giants fans. He continued, “All my years in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue.” The Giants owner explained that fans wrote in, stating if any of the Giants players did what Kaepernick did, they would never come to another game.
In other words, Kaepernick’s non-participation, which everyone pretended to be a serious protest, got the Giants owner threatened with an actual boycott by fanatics. (And who’s more fanatical than season ticket holders.)
But critics of the Giants owner went on to say that he neglected to mention a kicker the Giants signed to a new contract after he was arrested for domestic violence. They also questioned the priorities of Giants fans, by pointing out that the Giants owner received more letters about a national anthem protest than a player that abused his wife.
But the difference between Kaepernick and the perpetrator of domestic violence is the perpetrator can admit he made a mistake. He can apologize, hold a press conference with his wife and beg for forgiveness. A good public relations campaign will get him a second chance and reduce the letters from fans complaining about domestic violence to the team owners.
But Kaepernick did nothing wrong, right?
So he has nothing to apologize for, and all of the fanatics that rejected his free expression have nothing to forgive. And since they have nothing to forgive, all that will remain is their fanatical hatred and their fanatical letters to team owners.
No public relations campaign can help Kaepernick because it’s not wrong to play fantasy protest in the National Football League.
It’s just bad for business.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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