Why I’m done with the NFL

Colin Kaepernick. [Open source image.]

Football season is here and, although I’ve been an avid fan of the 49ers and the NFL for the majority of my life, I will not be watching.

The NFL has become a place where a player can beat his significant other and receive a minimal suspension, but when someone like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decides to engage in a non-violent protest, he is blackballed from the league.  

Last year, Kaepernick caught the nation’s attention when he sat during pre-game national anthems in protest of American police treatment against the black community. This infuriated fans all over the country, who viewed his refusal to stand as a disrespectful gesture to the United States and those who fight for it.

Nevertheless, Kaepernick continued to protest and, at the end of the season, he not-so-willingly opted out of his contract with the 49ers and has been passed over by several teams in favor of quarterbacks with lesser stats and accolades.

It’s this blatant discrimination and belittlement of what Kaepernick stands for that makes it impossible for me to justify watching more games.

In the same way Kaepernick is within his rights to protest by kneeling during the national anthem, NFL owners are within theirs to not sign him because of it. The issue for me lies with the ugly precedent that the owners’ refusal to sign Kaepernick sets for the NFL and its players.

In late May, New York Giants owner John Mara commented on the fan backlash to a potential Kaepernick signing as the reason his team stayed away from the quarterback.

“All my years in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara said to the MMQB. “It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I’ve run into.”

There may be plenty of real football related reasons not to sign Kaepernick. He might not be a system fit. His price tag might be higher than some teams want to pay. Fan backlash, however, is not a reasonable justification. This validates the discriminatory practice of many to love their favorite player when he’s winning and keeping his mouth shut, but to turn on him the second he speaks out.

Living in Sacramento, I’ve encountered many 49er fans, and I’ve had a front row seat to their shift on Kaepernick. In 2013, he had just finished a season that took the 49ers within five yards of a Super Bowl victory. He’d solidified himself as the team’s starting quarterback, broken numerous records and won the fans over along the way. They loved him.

Fast forward to 2016, and he was possibly the most hated player in the NFL. Long forgotten were the days of Kaepernick running all over the league. The only thing people seemed to want to talk about was his nonviolent protest of the American flag and what it stood for.

The issue, it seems, was that Kaepernick became a real person in the moment. He wasn’t a super athlete that fans could fawn over from their couch. He was a man who presented a real problem with our country. And they wanted none of it.

Former quarterback Michael Vick returned to the NFL after serving time in prison for his part in a dog-fighting ring. [Photo: Creative commons]

These are the same fans and owners who justified former quarterback Michael Vick signing with the Eagles after he abused dogs, Greg Hardy signing with the Cowboys after his girlfriend took him to court on charges of beating and threatening to kill her, and Ray Rice staying with the Ravens after video surfaced of him dragging his unconscious fiancée from an elevator.

Tyreek Hill pled guilty to strangling his pregnant girlfriend in 2014, but Chiefs fans still cheer him on every time he scores a touchdown. Joe Mixon fractured a woman’s jaw and he still got drafted in the second round. The list continues to grow.

The NFL has a very serious domestic assault and violent crime issue, and there is yet to be a serious conversation about it. Fans, owners and the NFL seem okay supporting these players because, as atrocious as their actions were off the field, they can be ignored in the face of success on the field. Kaepernick, on the other hand, put a voice to his actions and made it clear that he was going to use his platform to stand up to the injustices he saw in the world.

The trend I see here is that the NFL doesn’t truly care for its players, only the value that they bring to the league. Take, for instance, another of the NFL’s biggest problems–concussions.

On July 25, the JAMA medical journal released a study that diagnosed 110 of 111 deceased NFL players with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a degenerative brain disease found in people who’ve suffered repeated blows to the head and is linked to domestic violence, suicidal tendency, memory loss and social instability.

To its credit, the NFL has recognized head trauma to be an issue with football and has taken certain measures to try and increase the safety of the game. The question that follows, however, is can a game as violent as football ever be considered safe? I worry that it can’t.

Over the summer, I looked around and witnessed the hate that people poured down on Kaepernick, and it was the last straw. I couldn’t support this game and be complacent with a fan culture that uses and then discards a player the second he challenges their position. I couldn’t support an institution that had yet to properly address a glaring domestic violence issue in its league. And I definitely could no longer watch a game where its players are in serious danger of falling victim to a life-altering brain disease.

As sports fans we have a responsibility to recognize what we are comfortable with supporting and enjoying. With the NFL, I no longer have the stomach for it.



Jordan Schauberger on EmailJordan Schauberger on Twitter
Jordan Schauberger
Jordan Schauberger is a contributor with VOICES: River City and a student at American River College. He is studying journalism and plans to have a career covering sports.