NFL football kicked off this past weekend. Many were waiting for this moment to get a sense of normalcy in a year that has been anything but normal. There were plenty of reasons to get excited about the new season all around the country. For Angelenos, one reason was the opening of the massive SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. As the season drew closer, it also became obvious there were reasons to turn away from the game.
We could start by going years back to the seemingly already forgotten issue of player safety. The NFL knew the sport had caused players a lot of harm and it ignored and skirted the problem as mental injuries, early deaths, and suicides piled up. The league fought it, disavowing knowledge of the dangers of the sport until they were unable to hide all the evidence pointing against them.
One of the Most Offensive Team Names in Sports
There is no arguing the term “redskins” is offensive to Native Americans. Yet, the Washington Redskins insisted fans did not find it offensive and the NFL supported the team’s decision year after year to not change it. This year, as the masses began to forcefully take down symbols of racism and oppression throughout the country, the pressure became too much and the team finally dropped the name. As evidence that it only did so because of these recent events, it adopted the temporary moniker of the Washington Football Team while a new name can be found.
Taking a Knee
That brings us to Colin Kaepernick. In 2016, Kaepernick decided to take a stand against the racism and police brutality he was noticing around the country. He initially sat in protest during the national anthem. After speaking with retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick’s protest went from sitting to instead kneeling during the anthem. The action was received with hatred and cries of disrespect for the country. Internally, where the NFL had the opportunity to spark meaningful conversation around a very real issue that went far beyond sport, they instead took the same approach and did everything they could to silence not only Kaepernick but any player who attempted to speak out. The league owners banded together to make an example of Colin Kaepernick and ensured Kap’s exit from the league when his contract ended.
Even as we began 2020, the NFL continued with the message that protest during the national anthem was unpatriotic and disrespectful to soldiers who defend the nation. During the Super Bowl on February 2nd, the NFL ran a video piece dedicated to the U.S. flag featuring the First Ladies of the NFL: the wives of football team owners. The league again completely missed the point behind the protest and also reminded us the league is run by old white men who tell young black men what to do and how to do it. Good job, Roger Goodell.
This is only week one of the season. Between Thursday’s audible booing as players locked arms in solidarity before the game and the league’s lax efforts to protect fans and players amid a pandemic, it feels wrong to watch football. It is disappointing to see a league that prides itself on being progressive about the game itself, continue to dawdle on human rights issues. The NFL has shown at every opportunity in recent times that it wants players to “shut up and play” and fans to tune in mindlessly.