Dustin brought me on to Pajiba to write about the NFL because I know a lot about football. I know coaches and schemes and I can break down plays and game scripts. And I love, love, love professional football. The sport.
But over the years, it’s become increasingly difficult to support the organization that owns the professional version of the sport, the National Football League.
There are 32 teams. One, the Green Bay Packers, is owned publicly. Of the 31 remaining teams, there are 30 — count ‘em — thirty white owners, 29 of them male.
Like oil companies who claim that they have no role in climate change, or the tobacco companies who claim smoking isn’t bad for you, the NFL has staunchly contended that football isn’t dangerous for the players. What do all of these companies have in common? They’re all run by rich white men, they all value money over everything else, and they’re all a bunch of fucking disgusting liars.
The NFL employs Roger Goodell, the most repellent man in America before November 2016, to be its liar-in-chief. They pay him $44 million dollars a year to shield the rest of them from the spotlight of their malfeasance. They take young boys and they break them, for money. And not a lot of money, either. Despite the myth of vast salaries, the average NFL player plays three years and the average salary is the least of the four major sports.
It seems pretty hypocritical for people like me to profess to love football but somehow loathe the NFL. It’s a tricky line to walk, I grant you. People like me, I think, love the sport: the strategy, the calculations, the play-calling, the personnel moves. It’s the closest thing we have to watching a pitched battle in modern terms. We love seeing a great play that fools a defense. We love seeing a goal-line stand or the athleticism of a running back as he gets skinny through the hole and bursts out of the trash to take it to the house. We love the sport.
What we don’t love, specifically, is people getting hurt. Seeing someone get their head nearly taken off from an amped-up or doped-up defender. People like me were always able to justify this brutality in the name of choice. These players chose to play the game. They chose the career, knowing the risks. Or so we thought. As it turns out the risks are far more sinister than any of us knew. But the NFL has known all along.
And to be fair, many of us have been hypocritical in our continued support of a league that allows any version of that.
But I was weak. And I love football. So I kept watching.
Until last year.
So last year, I boycotted the NFL. Which means I didn’t pay them anything. I didn’t go to games, watch games on television, pay for services like NFL Gamepass or NFL Sunday Ticket. I didn’t watch the NFL network or go to NFL.com and I didn’t buy any merchandise from the teams, which sucked because I had superstars Alvin Kamara and Josh Gordon on my fantasy football team and I couldn’t buy their jerseys or watch them play.
I boycotted last year because the NFL had just gone too far in blackballing Colin Kaepernick, a man who made the horrendous decision of quietly kneeling during the national anthem. That’s all he did. He knelt.
For that, he was summarily drummed out of the league, despite the fact that he was a considerably better player than probably 1/3 of the starting quarterbacks in the league.
All he was doing was using his platform to shine a light on the plight of black men in the country at the hands of law enforcement. That’s it. This all began with one dude KNEELING.
But that was immediately politicized, and labeled an “insult” to the flag, somehow. And that he was ‘Unamerican’ and that he was basically spitting on the National Anthem. Which, taken a step further, means that he is spitting in the faces of our servicemen and women at home and abroad.
Of course it means NONE OF THAT. But that’s how it was spun by the ignorant and the jingoistic and the newly re-energized racists who have crawled out of their toxic hate-holes since a certain unapologetic bigot was elevated to the nation’s highest office.
Other players joined Kaepernick in kneeling, and the NFL tried to figure out what to do. As if they needed to ‘do’ anything.
The real problem was brought into sharp focus.
And that’s the long and short of it. The NFL is 70 percent black. But the NFL wants good black people who don’t make scenes by doing hostile, vitriolic things like holding hands with their eyes closed or placing a knee upon the ground.
So, in response to that, many of us opted out last season, and hoped that this year would arrive with the NFL waking the hell up.
But it just got a lot worse.
First of all, the Carolina Panthers were up for sale. Did the NFL make sure to finally get a black owner? Of course not. This week they officially approved a white hedge fund billionaire.
That level of tone deafness is staggering. And it’s idiotic from a business perspective. Do they have any idea how many jerseys they’d sell on day one if there was a black owner? Millions. Fucking millions. My black friends wouldn’t care what team it was. I asked two of them: one a lifelong Jets fan and the other a Giants fan. What would you do if The New England Patriots were sold to a black owner? They both said the exact same thing.
“Then I’m a Patriots fan, day one. Period.”
These guys haaaaate the Patriots. Hate. But to be represented on that level? It’s a no-brainer for them.
But the NFL, in its wisdom, or merely its institutionalized racism, chose to close ranks around another rich white dude. Which is good. Because the one thing we all agree the NFL was sorely lacking was a rich white dude.
In its recent rules meetings, the NFL did, finally, increase the punishment for anyone leading with their helmet, including instant ejection and suspension. A long overdue capitulation.
But then they did something indefensible. Something that should send millions of people away from the NFL for good.
They outlawed kneeling during the national anthem.
They outlawed it.
Meaning that if a member of your team kneels, the team gets a penalty.
Just let that sink in a little.
In fairness, the NFL has every right to do that. It’s privately owned. It can, in point of fact, do whatever it wants. For example, it can pretend to give a shit about patriotism, and then charge the government for all of those pre-game flag ceremonies. That’s right. For years the NFL was paid to pretend to be patriotic. And only when they were found out did they magically decide to give some of the money back.
So it’s that much more galling and contemptible that this letter from the louse who runs the league is predicated on “patriotism.”
STATEMENT FROM NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL
The policy adopted today was approved in concert with the NFL’s ongoing commitment to local communities and our country — one that is extraordinary in its scope, resources, and alignment with our players. We are dedicated to continuing our collaboration with players to advance the goals of justice and fairness in all corners of our society.
The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed. The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business. We are honored to work with our players to drive progress.
It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.
This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.
We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it—and on our fans who enjoy it.
The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.
The membership also strongly believes that:
1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.
3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
The message here is clear: In the 2018 NFL, you’re free to protest as much as you want as long as no one actually sees you do it.
This doesn’t feel like a smart business decision to me. It feels like a message from rich white men signifying that they’ll no longer tolerate any “uppity” behavior. And guess what? If you don’t like it, you can go play in another football league.
Oh, wait. There is no other football league.
Ahhhhh. It’s times like these when you appreciate the wisdom of Congress exempting the NFL from antitrust laws.
“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic.”
That perception was promulgated by racist trash and the Fox News set and no one else.
First of all, the NFL admits it’s a “false perception” and to combat that, they ban it. What an absolute crock of shit. That’s like saying “people have falsely identified potatoes to be a source of radiation. Thus we will no longer sell them.”
Eat a giant bucket of shit, Goodell.
Second of all, who gives a rat’s ass if a player is patriotic or unpatriotic? This is America, where freedom rings from sea to motherfucking shining sea. If someone deigns to be unpatriotic then they damn well have the right to do so. That has fuck all to do with whether they carry the pigskin well. These issues aren’t connected, except by people who think there are “good Americans” and “bad Americans.”
“1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”
Get fucked eternally. That flag is not just a symbol of the blind obedience you seem to think it is. It’s a symbol of struggle and growth and measured thought and the right to speak out against injustice. That anthem doesn’t just belong to people who stick flags in the back of their pickup trucks and sing “God Bless the USA.” It belongs to every American, of every color and gender identity and sexual orientation and the religious and non-religious alike. The audacity is sickening.
And I can’t think of a more polite, restrained form of protest than kneeling. It’s downright gentlemanly when you think about it. Kneeling shows respect. Kneeling shows reverence for the institution and symbology of the country without being a mindless automaton about all the shit that’s going on right now. My whole family is in the armed forces and none of them think my kneeling means I don’t love or appreciate their efforts. Thousands and thousands of servicemen and women have fought to defend our right to do exactly that. To legally and respectfully question our leaders and our way of doing things. Kneeling during the anthem means we’re taking stock of where we are. It means we still have work to do. It means those of us who kneel feel that we’ve taken a step back as a nation, in about a hundred ways, and we take the time during the anthem to reflect on that. It doesn’t mean fuck America. It means we love America, in all its twisted complexities, and we want to help get it back on track.
Don’t be fooled in the coming days by NFL owners offering to cover fines or bullshit like that. This measure passed without a single vote of opposition. (49ers owner Jed York abstained). But everyone else lined up to suck the corporate dick and voted to make this NFL law.
And they have every right to do that. It’s their product and they can do with it as they see fit.
And as consumers, we can decide not to take that bullshit.
We can decide that giving the NFL even one dollar makes us complicit in stifling dissent. It makes us complicit in a league where after 98 years in existence they can’t make room for a single black owner. It makes us complicit in the CTE-related suicides and the culture of toxic masculinity that leads to domestic violence. It makes us complicit to fans killing fans in parking lots. It makes us complicit to a time-honored culture of unchecked misogyny. It makes us complicit in a government-sanctioned monopoly, where stadiums are paid for with taxpayer money, but then somehow belong to billionaires. It makes us complicit in the flagrant and obvious blackballing and silencing of black athletes.
I’m a professional football writer who is madly in love with football. I love the movement and the tactics and the history of the game. I can rattle off the depth chart of every team in the league off the top of my head.
And I’m out.
I’m done with the desiccated carcass of rotting filth that the NFL has become. I’m done with the lies and the brownshirt goonery. Appointing an unprincipled cretin like Roger Goodell to be the ultimate arbiter of any form of discipline is a sick joke. The man is a whore. Bought and paid for by men who want to make sure that the help doesn’t make too much noise while they’re sacrificing their bodies for the benefit of their corporate overlords.
It bothers me that my departure will hurt NFL players, whom I root for and admire. It bothers me that when people like me quit it hurts restaurateurs and taxi drivers and hot dog vendors. That fact is not lost on me. But the only vote we have with these monopolists is with our wallets. They don’t speak any other language and they’ll never change of their own volition. Why would they? We keep giving them stadiums.
Every time the NFL has a chance to take a step into the future they always careen back into the past. These oligarchs may pad their fortunes on the backs of silenced employees but not one red cent of that haul will be from me.
In fact, unless and until there’s a cataclysmic and comprehensive culture change in the NFL, they’ll never get a dime from me ever again.