by Aristarchus Patrinos
The road to hell is paved with good intentions – Virgil, The Aeneid
The old saying: the road to hell is paved with good intentions, was never more true than for a romantic young quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, named Colin Kaepernick, in the Fall of 2016.
For many Americans, the countless brutal and senseless killings of black men by law enforcement across the country, is one of the most important issues of our time. Undoubtedly, it has not received near the attention it deserves, neither from the press but most importantly nor from the federal government.
It was for such reasons that Colin Kaepernick (Kap) chose to kneel during the national anthem before the start of a nationally televised NFL game, as a kind of protest and in order to bring attention to this awful situation. After the game, Kap addressed the issue:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”.
Kap indicated that he would continue to protest until he felt like: “[The American flag] represents what it’s supposed to represent.”
Kap’s protest planted a seed. Moreover, the unfair but inevitable vitriolic attacks against Kap, as well as the media attention they generated, were the water and the sunlight that caused that seed to germinate and sprout. The pollen was in the air, and in time, particularly after Kap couldn’t get a job the next year, it appeared that the NFL team owners might have a full scale player rebellion on their hands.
Personally, I thought Kap’s move a mistake. Many of today’s NFL rookies make more money during their first year than the great Jim Brown made his entire career, including inflation. This is principally owing to large sums paid to the NFL by the television networks for broadcasting rights. The NFL players receive half of this TV money through their revenue sharing deal with the NFL owners, negotiated by the NFL Players Union. Kap himself was earning nearly $1 million dollars per regular season game at the time of the incident.
As an NFL player, from the time you step on the field and the cameras start rolling, you are “on the job,” on “company time.” It’s all part of the NFL product and the television experience it produces. The NFL game broadcast has long been a “safe space” beyond the reach of politics and the dreaded “culture wars”, where the country can unite with common purpose. Once one introduces these political elements into the live broadcast, one changes the NFL product and makes it less valuable.
Traditional American mass media outlets have taken massive hits to their viewership, owing to the alternative viewing options that have arisen in our internet age. However, the demand for the live NFL game broadcast had proven remarkably inelastic to such concerns, even growing.
As a consequence, the TV rights to broadcast NFL games became increasingly valuable and the NFL players and owners increasingly rich, owing to their revenue sharing agreement. Since politics and culture war has been introduced into the NFL live game broadcasts, this viewership has taken a major hit, and the NFL product has consequently become less valuable. The NFL brand has become riddled with problems.
During the 1980s, NFL players, like the great Reggie White, went on strike multiple times to gain the right to negotiate for free agency. These players actually sacrificed, risking their jobs, forgoing large portions of their salary, in order to obtain the right to negotiate with any team in the league. They were not even the principal beneficiaries of free agency, but they created the conditions under which today’s players can live in luxury. What are today’s players leaving the next generation: a broken league, a broken product?
Sometimes I wonder if these players even understand what went into building this NFL business. Would they have had the backbone to go on strike and risk their whole livelihood to form a Players Union? To defend it? I am skeptical, for the simple fact that today’s pro athlete has been so coddled from the tender years of childhood. They’re spoiled. I question whether they would have had the right stuff to make such a risky and ballsy move that actually required material sacrifice. In effect, I think they are full of crap.
These player protests are vanity. They are a vain display of self-righteousness, without any practical or discernible end. What will be achieved, besides disrupting the NFL business from which they so greatly benefit, and increasing political polarization in an already too divided country?
There are many options for these rich and famous players to more effectively address the important issues involving police brutality and the senseless killings which surround it. They can form organizations that advocate for these issues in the public square, which do actual independent private investigations of the many incidents, finding patterns where the media and the government will not. They can probably even get the NFL owners to contribute their own clout and money to such efforts. They can do public speaking around the country on their own time. There are so many options.
These NFL players want to have their cake and eat it too. They want all the material benefits and god-like adulation that goes with being an NFL player, yet they also want to play political hero to the masses, disrupting the NFL business with their shenanigans. Moreover, they expect to do all this without any negative material or professional consequences. It is unrealistic and naïve. There are plenty of avenues available to these affluent celebrities to address this most important social issue, but the NFL game broadcast is not the proper forum. It must remain a “safe space.”
Aristarchus Patrinos is a Northwest Philadelphia native and Central High graduate. He has worked on Wall Street in the New York financial industry and currently teaches high school students.