On August 31, 2017, I gave up on a lifelong passion.:
“Sadly, after many years of fantasy and a lifetime of watching football, I’m done,” I wrote on Facebook.
“If Kaepernick can’t play, neither do I. I’ll think about resubscribing to NFL TV once they come correct on racism and racist team names. And if they show real leadership on CTE and domestic abuse, I might even cheer for the Pats again.”
I was born in Prospect Bay, N.S., to hippy parents who moved from New England fearing the very real possibility of a Vietnam War draft notice. As the daughter of white, well-educated immigrants, there wasn’t much in the way of adjustment between home and school, except a couple of things. My mother had some thoughts about how the Canadian school system approached the War of 1812 – “It was a naval war between Britain and America and we won!” – and I loved football.
I don’t remember when I picked football, but I do remember why: it was something no girls I knew watched, and it was capital “A” American. I could cheer for my home team, the New England Patriots. Never mind that few in my family on either side of the border were massive football fans. It became part of my origin story.
Football was the source of one of the happiest days in my life – the first New England championship, where I watched the Patriots pull out an underdog victory for the ages in a tiny campus bar in Corner Brook surrounded by all my acquaintances who had ever shown the slightest interest in the sport. That night was so epic, so purely joyful, the people I dragged to the bar that night talked about it for years afterward. There were also some pretty low lows. The very moment of the Tyree helmet catch I threw my Patriots hat across the room, stormed into the bedroom and threw a pillow over my ears to escape the loss.
But more recently, football has left me disillusioned and angry. Football has always been a sport owned by rich (white) men who cared nothing for their (largely black) workers unless there was glory and money to be had. A sport that put winning over everything, even if it meant taking little to no action on steroid use, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, concussions…
But the last straw for me – where I could no longer separate the sport I love from the league that ran it – was the shameful, racist treatment of Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is a stunningly talented quarterback who is, inconveniently for the league, also a fierce advocate for social justice issues. He used his platform in many ways, the most public of which was to kneel for the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism. Other players followed, then whole teams. How did the NFL react? That symbol of patriotism? It has reportedly blackballed Kaepernick out of the league.
It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest. – Eric Reid
Not content with punishing Kaepernick, for the 2018-2019 season, the league has outlawed kneeling during the national anthem. If a member of a team kneels, here are the consequences:
A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
The commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
The anthem rule was met with almost universal condemnation – aside from U.S. President Donald Trump of course. There are some reports that the rule did not go through a formal owner vote, and New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson suggested the Jets organization would pay any fines incurred by players. Although not borne out by history, there is a small chance the NFL will realize its error and change its stance. Petitions like this one by Care2 serve to keep the pressure on.
But still, such damage has been done. Read those penalties again and tell me this is about patriotism. This is nothing less than the NFL’s attempt to protect profit margins, appease Trump and continue the suppression of their workforce. It’s saying to people of colour that there is no “right way” to protest inequity and injustice.
It’s punitive, it’s racist and it’s shameful.
I’m ashamed to be an NFL fan. And right now, I’m ashamed to be an American.