The mighty enterprise that blackballed Colin Kaepernick has almost come to its senses.
Team owners in the National Football League are finally taking a stand for social justice. Better still, they are making sure television cameras will capture their message for all to see.
One end zone of NFL stadiums will be emblazoned with the words “End Racism.” The other will say, “It Takes All Of Us.”
These slogans aren’t radical in the eyes of most NFL players. About two-thirds of the players are Black. They’re young men, but they’ve been around long enough to know there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop for a Black motorist or an ordinary encounter between a Black person and a police officer.
But the end zone inscriptions are revolutionary for NFL management. Button-down team owners loathed Kaepernick’s demonstrations, peaceful though they were.
To recap, he knelt during the national anthem in 2016 while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, the team he once led to a Super Bowl.
Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality inflamed a part of the populace that said he denigrated the flag and soldiers. Team owners worried more about ratings and merchandise sales than whether Kaepernick brought attention to cases of life and death.
Though most NFL players are Black, owners and coaches are overwhelmingly white. No Black person holds a majority stake in an NFL franchise. Only three of the league’s 32 head coaches are Black.
The racial imbalance between management and players means they often see the world differently.
One turning point in this tumultuous year was a white cop in Minneapolis pressing his knee into a Black man’s neck for more than eight minutes, killing him. If this display of unnecessary deadly force was caught on camera, an angry nation wondered what happens when no one is filming.
More recently, a white police officer in Wisconsin shot an unarmed Black man in the back seven times. He is paralyzed from the waist down.
Police unions, one of the bigger obstacles to justice, surprised no one with their response. They rushed to defend bad cops.
NFL owners have veered into fresh territory. They saw the cases for what they were — abuses of power by officers who should have kept the peace but didn’t.
Kaepernick’s protests in 2016 called attention to this sort of racism. But as NFL owners have become more enlightened, he has been left behind.
Kaepernick has been out of football for more than three years, and even now is too hot to handle in the eyes of team owners.
At 32, he is a better quarterback than many of the retreads or underwhelming newcomers who populate NFL rosters. Yet no team will touch him.
Many fans still want to twist what he did into a show of disrespect for the flag and the military. This argument was advanced by President Donald Trump, who received five deferments that enabled him to avoid military service during the Vietnam War.
To score points with his base, Trump in vile terms advocated the firing of NFL players who knelt during the national anthem.
NFL teams are made up of good guys and some bad ones, just like the larger world. Many players are generous with their money and their time as they try to make their cities better.
I knew staffers at a Children’s Hospital who marveled at the off-field dedication of then-NFL quarterback Kordell Stewart. A wondrous athlete who was being booed with gusto during a bad season, Stewart still visited young cancer patients any time his schedule allowed.
Stewart never sought publicity for his volunteer work nor did he speak about how he spent his free time. Countless other NFL players are just as selfless.
Seldom, though, is even the most benevolent professional athlete equipped to be the face of a social cause. Kaepernick did it. In return, a good part of his career was stolen.
NFL owners would still prefer that everyone stand for the national anthem. Business would be smoother if the games went on with no demonstrations.
Those days are gone. The owners know some players will protest peacefully this season during pregame ceremonies.
Unlike a few years ago, the NFL brass won’t be rattled or intimidated when the critics howl.
Political footballs take funny bounces.
Kaepernick is out of the NFL, but the owners and teams he made uncomfortable have adopted his ideals.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.