It’s important to put the NFL in context.
Understand that it’s fucking Mordor.
It’s totally evil.
It really is.
Entertain for a moment the idea that the NFL might actually be nothing more than a flashy delivery system for gambling. The games are just accessories created to facilitate the exchange of a mind-bending amount of money. It’s impossible to calculate how much cash– both legally and illegally– is bet on the NFL each year, but it’s hundreds of billions of dollars. It might be a trillion. The NFL, and the owners of each of the the 32 teams that comprise the league, make pornographic amounts of money– so much so that even the pathologically greedy Donald Trump wanted in on the action back in the 80’s.
Working beneath these overlords are the players. About 70% of them are black, and the average length of a career is about 3 1/2 years. It is a brutal, collision-based sport, but beyond the mechanical failure of knees, hips and such, there is CTE, a brain disease that virtually every football player seems to acquire due to the concussive nature of the sport. And because the NFL is evil, they withheld this information from the players even as symptoms set in and raged amongst them.
Essentially, what the NFL does is hire people to engage in combat while America bets on who the winner will be.
It’s the bread and circuses we’re fed.
The game itself is about martial precision rather than athletic improvisation. The players are armoured and anonymous, strategically deployed by the technocrats on the sidelines, and whatever exuberance or individuality they bring to the game is swiftly crushed. When celebrating and dancing after a touchdown became a thing, the league outlawed it. It was considered “disrespectful,” ( but not in the same way that calling a team The Redskins might be “disrespectful”) which put another way means it was considered too black. In effect, they took an African-American product, subordinated it to the tastes of a conservative white audience, and profited obscenely from it.
Colin Kaepernick, a talented black quarterback, ( It was not that long ago that a black quarterback in the NFL was unheard of, the belief being that they didn’t have the “faculties” to perform the job) began the practice of taking a knee during the national anthem as a protest against against racial injustice.
He was subsequently black-balled from the league, even though his talents should have been in high demand. In his absence, others players stepped up to continue the practice, all of which came to a head when Trump started calling for the sons of bitches to be fired. This cynical and amoral manipulation of existing divisions in the nation forced the players and owners to respond.
Siding with those who are against racial injustice and for freedom of expression seems like a pretty obvious choice. I mean, this is a no-brainer, right? History is unfolding in such a way that it’s forcing people to make a choice, whether they want to or not, and many players took the knee. And the photographs–all so familiar, inevitable and urgent– were deeply moving. They gave me chills, and for a moment it was easy to believe that things might finally be changing for the good.
But then again, this movement was taking place largely within the pitiless machine that is the NFL, and so many sought a middle road that they hoped wouldn’t interrupt any revenue streams. The Dallas Cowboys, led by their owner, took a knee before the anthem, and then standing, locked arms as a team during the anthem.
It was a muddle of a message, one that managed to suggest the players had some sort of solidarity with ownership instead of a grievance with institutional racism, but that was the point. It was supposed to mean all things to all people. Ultimately, they co-opted the symbolism of Kaepernick’s protest to support the idea of “protest” without actually joining the protest. It was nothing more than damage control, a gesture as empty of meaning as a Pepsi commercial, and one more thing the NFL can add to it’s wall of shame.