On the heels of Mike Pence’s quarter-million-dollar taxpayer-funded publicity stunt this weekend, The Root reports that some NFL General Managers and Owners are pressuring coaches and players to stop their protests.
Another practice-squad player told us that his coaching staff previously told the team’s black players that they understood the protest, but on the Tuesday after the demonstrations two weeks ago, the head coach said management had asked them to speak to the players and explain that demonstrations would be “looked at on a case-by-case basis.”
“My coach said his father served in Desert Storm,” said one special-teams player. “He said he fought for our right to take a knee. Then, all of a sudden, he’s asking us not to do it. I know management must have talked to him. He looked like he was ashamed to even say that to us.”
Chris Kluwe ranks 28th all-time in average yards per punt, yet he never played in the NFL again after speaking up about LGBTQ rights. Kluwe said that this report sounded way too familiar.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, last seen kneeling with his team on Monday Night Football, took these whispers out into public while venting after yet another devastating loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers yesterday.
First off, this is the emptiest threat of all time. Jerry Jones is so ruthless that he’d let Charles Manson on the field if he could play. Sure, some third-stringer would no doubt be cast aside, but if a stud like Dak Prescott or Dez Bryant took a knee, there’s absolutely no chance that he’d be benched now that Dallas can only afford three more losses over the next eleven games. Not to mention the fact that star running back Zeke Elliot was suspended for six games over domestic abuse, the suspension is currently being appealed, and Zeke has played no less than 80% of all snaps in any game this year—far outpacing all other running backs on Dallas’ roster. Hell, Jerry Jones gave the monstrous Greg Hardy multiple chances simply because he could play.
It’s pretty clear how NFL owners view this situation—eight of whom donated directly to Trump’s campaign. After the president called NFL players “sons of bitches” a couple weeks ago, we reached a boiling point with the players’ frustration—and in order to keep the peace on their teams, NFL owners co-opted a protest against injustice into one of unity. What “unity” meant was clearly a branding exercise, as the owners seem to have a taken a stance of “okay, you had your fun, now knock it off.”
The NFL is a faux-militaristic organization run by men who like to pretend that they have a soldier’s courage and integrity without actually ever testing that theory. They believe that “distractions” are the biggest enemy of all, and anything that doesn’t fit the coaches and owners’ narrow focus of what matters is deemed to be a “distraction,” as I wrote in my column about Kaepernick at the beginning of the season:
If you’re making life difficult for those near the top of the NFL chain of command, you get blackballed. It doesn’t matter who you are. Look at the golden boy, Tim Tebow. He was convinced that he would only play quarterback in the NFL, and all the naysayers were there to motivate him. You couldn’t really blame him, since he had heard that trope since high school, and he went on to become possibly the greatest college football player of all time, then won an NFL playoff game in his second season (he was terrible and he should have switched positions, but still, I admire his stubbornness). But because ESPN and the like brought so much noise wherever Tebow went, unless he was starting, it made little sense for the NFL to keep him around, because “distractions” are the biggest fear of NFL front office gurus.
Sports are largely run by old white men ordering young black men around on a field. The comparisons to slavery are unavoidable (save for the obvious fact that many of these guys are being paid millions of dollars), and owners telling African American players to shut up and play only perpetuates that image. What I wrote in my Kaepernick column at the beginning of the season is even truer now after only five weeks:
NFL Legend Vince Lombardi once said that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” but this Kaepernick saga has proved that maxim false during our modern times. In the NFL, “winning” has taken on a subjective term that is more emblematic of Donald Trump’s amorphous policy goals than the black and white truth of the box score.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.