Before I begin, let me preface by saying that there’s no sport I love as much as football. Naturally, the NFL is my favorite professional sports league. Picture a 12-year-old completely enamored by the 2006 Bears (make fun of me as much as you like) and you’ll have an understanding of how much I love the game.
To me, there’s nothing like the pageantry, drama, and excitement a competitive NFL game can bring. The story lines that either actually mean something or are crafted out of thin air all seem equally entertaining.
-The Panthers will look to avoid the Super Bowl hangover after a disappointing defeat to the Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl.
-Over in New England, the Patriots finally received their “penance” (if you’re one of those fans) and will try to win a championship while without their crown jewel, Tom Brady, for the first month of the season.
-Down in Dallas, the Cowboys (and everyone else) supposedly think rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is the second coming of Joe Montana, as he tries to replace the injured Tony Romo.
-Up North, Vikings fans are likely still scratching their heads at trading a first round pick for the perennially disappointing (but adequate) Sam Bradford, to replace their injured franchise quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. (He’s not dead, people)
And that’s just four teams!
I could go on and on and have a relevant discussion about everyone in the league (Yes, even teams like the Lions). This is still the case even if sometimes these stories can be exhausting when your average pundit tweets out “THE NFL NEVER SLEEPS, FOLKS!” at some random news blip in the offseason.
Of course, I’m not one of those people. Actually, I’m one of the people that drags that kind of lazy analysis through the mud. But still. This league and game have me hooked.
Things like breaking down film, musing about a column, discussing roster building etc. are all aspects of this writing that give me pleasure.
But recent events, even as I grow in my own career, make you acknowledge that are there are some things more important than football.
The NFL already has an image problem with a significant amount of people. From domestic violence to deliberately hiding evidence that concussions can occur from this very dangerous game, not many trust the NFL or the picture it conveys. In fact, if I had to designate which American sports league was the least socially progressive and most conservative, it would be the NFL.
Most writers, broadcasters, and even players involved, will typically refrain from making any kind of social stance, simply because it’s about the game, and nothing should matter, and simply because they don’t feel comfortable in doing so given the environment. When the US gorilla of sports makes that kind of stand, ultimately, it’s disappointing and quite frankly kind of depressing, considering the power the NFL has.
That’s why it was so refreshing to see 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, fight for something he believes in, especially something that matters.
In sitting down for the national anthem-something that has needlessly angered every one who wants to chime in-without actually considering what Kaepernick’s trying to start a conversation about, he’s made a move for change.
It’s not about Kaepernick disrespecting the military or the police. He’s not doing that. Nothing is ever black or white in these kinds of discussions. There’s always a measure of nuance. It’s about him making sure everyone understands that he believes black people are oppressed in the United States. Which they are. It’s about him helping others believe they can have a voice in a league that would typically quell the kind of move Kaepernick has made.
As Deadspin reported, the Seahawks are now considering sitting for the national anthem as a team in their opener on Sunday, to join their teammate, Jeremy Lane, who followed Kaepernick’s lead initially.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) September 8, 2016
I don’t think people understand how remarkable that is. Because one person decided to speak up and say “enough”, at least publicly, others have the confidence to do the same.
It even extended and transcended across other sports, with US Women’s soccer star, Megan Rapinoe, taking a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick, someone she’s never even met in person.
— ABC News (@ABC) September 6, 2016
Rapinoe’s reasoning was simply because she wanted to stand for something with a black man simply trying to improve race relations. Someone she believed people were unfairly riding. And in Rapinoe’s case, a gay athlete, she used it to also make everyone understands that the liberties of people of her sexual orientation aren’t always protected either. All of which is absolutely and unequivocally true.
Unless you’re a heterosexual white male in the United States, you’ve likely experienced some kind of dissent based on simply who you are. And if you don’t see that, I have to think you just want to ignore the problem. There’s substance and material to a conversation you just don’t want to be a part of. The reaction of unfiltered anger over “disrespect” by Kaepernick and now everyone following suit, is something that you or no doubt someone you know, has expressed.
“If he doesn’t like it here, he should just leave!”
Just because America is the “leader of the free world”, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect. That doesn’t exclude us from progress in our culture and society.
“He’s just doing it for a publicity stunt so he can be relevant again!”
Colin Kaepernick Says He’s Donating Money From Jersey Sales https://t.co/viwYWaXCTd
— CBS New York (@CBSNewYork) September 7, 2016
Yeah about that.
And how naive do you have to be believe he’s doing this for business and brand promotion as the current San Francisco back-up quarterback? For some reason you can only be a starter or prominent star to say something important, it seems.
“He’s become rich from playing professional sports. He doesn’t have a right to complain about oppression!”
Yes, there are those who believe that just because you’re successful, it means you shouldn’t use your potentially monumental platform to help make life better for everyone. How mind-bogglingly depressing is that to hear?
And as you can see, he’s impacted more than his fellow professional counterparts:
BREAKING: The @49ers have pledged $1 million to a pair of Bay Area groups to address various social inequities. Story to come.
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) September 8, 2016
Kaepernick expected the backlash, and his voice is what allows events like above to transpire. I don’t know about you, but that inspires hope.
So as we get ready to kick off the 2016 NFL season, something we’ve all looked forward to, and as we pledge our lives deeper and deeper into a league that historically hasn’t shown much care for anything or anyone beyond it’s brand, remember this moment set forth by Kaepernick.
It’s the most important thing to happen in the NFL in decades.
Football will likely be a dramatically different game years from now, on and off the field. Safety concerns will be the primary reason, of course. Maybe the NFL will also actually take aggressive stances in not tolerating things like domestic violence, something that could trickle across the other professional league’s if America’s monolith decided to do so.
But maybe it won’t change. Maybe the modern form of gladiators will maintain the status quo. Maybe people-from fans to league executives-will still be the same drones incapable of comprehending anything but the game. People won’t demand more progressive ideals and in turn, we’ll be in the same exact pickle we’re in now.
I have a feeling that won’t happen. I have a feeling the first action by Kaepernick courageously pushed us forward in the right direction. That it’ll be the first necessary public groundbreaking step to where we can simultaneously enjoy our refined football-really all sports-and also prosper together equally in our country.
Kaepernick instilled that belief and I applaud him.
2016 Season Picks (Award picks here)
NFC North: Packers
NFC East: Redskins
NFC South: Panthers
NFC West: Seahawks
Wild Cards: Cardinals, Vikings
AFC North: Steelers
AFC East: Patriots
AFC South: Texans
AFC West: Raiders
Wild Cards: Chiefs, Bengals
Super Bowl LI: Seahawks over Steelers
Robert Zeglinski is a managing editor of No Coast Bias, the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times, and is a staff writer for Second City Hockey and Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.