Chris Freud: Dear NFL, please let Colin Kaepernick play
August 23, 2017
For lack of a better term, quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being black-balled from the NFL for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before games last season.
There is no smoking gun of proof of collusion among the 32 NFL owners, but the Cleveland Browns anointed rookie DeShone Kizer as their starter on Wednesday ahead of Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler.
Kaepernick is better than all three of those guys.
For crying out loud, the Miami Dolphins plucked Jay Cutler out of retirement to start after Ryan Tannehill got hurt. Jay Cutler? Really?
The NFL is worried about the optics of Kaepernick and now other players taking a knee or sitting down during the anthem. By optics, we mean backlash from corporate sponsors, fans and their money.
Does Kaepernick have the right to speak out by taking a knee? Yes.
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Do NFL teams have a right not to sign him? Yes. The First Amendment does not read, "The NFL shall make no law …" Only government protects free speech.
Is the NFL being fundamentally hypocritical and short-sighted in its handling of Kaepernick?
A little history
The national anthem is not a sacred cow at sporting events.
The origin of the "The Star Spangled Banner" being played at a game came during the 1918 World Series, which was played during a particularly deadly time of World War I and in Chicago — the day before the Red Sox and Cubs started the city's federal building had been bombed.
The anthem came not before the game, but during the seventh-inning stretch. It roused an otherwise listless crowd — pitcher Babe Ruth was in the process of blanking the Cubs, 1-0, at Comiskey Park. (The hosts had rented a bigger park for the Fall Classic in the hopes of selling more seats than they had at what would be eventually called Wrigley Field, which had 14,000 seats at the time. The Cubs only sold out one of their three games on the South Side.)
When the World Series moved to Boston, they kept playing the anthem during the seventh-inning stretch as an attraction. Sox owner Harry Frazee wanted to sell tickets and a band playing the anthem did so.
The anthem wasn't actually the national anthem until 1931, when Congress made it official, and only came into somewhat daily use during World War II, when ballparks had public-address-systems and a financial need to make going to baseball games a patriotic activity during war time.
The sacred national anthem has a history of being a commercial tool.
Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem last season to protest the treatment of minorities. Although some of his San Francisco teammates knelt with him, he was easy to pinpoint as an ungrateful, spoiled athlete who hated America.
While that's a gross oversimplification of a point of view, issues of race continue to be in the headlines, most recently with the violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
More players have been kneeling during this preseason, including 12 Cleveland Browns before a "Monday Night Football" game earlier this week.
Not only were there 12, but one of them was Seth DeValve, who is white and married to an African-American.
"I myself will be raising children that don't look like me, and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now," DeValve said to ESPN.com. "So I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country and also to draw attention to the fact that we have work to do."
This is a problem for the NFL. How do you wrap yourself in the flag when it comes to the anthem, but find fault with a person "pray(ing) for our country?"
Yes, sports are an escape from reality, but they're also a vehicle for social change. Jackie Robinson's mere presence in Major League Baseball was a seminal moment in the civil-rights movement.
Then there's the fact that the NFL employs athletes who are involved in domestic violence, drug use and driving under the influence, actual crimes as opposed to kneeling.
Cowboys running-back Zeke Elliott has been suspended six games for "violating the league's personal conduct policy," read: domestic violence.
Elliott will be welcomed back with open arms by the Cowboys after his suspension is done, but a guy who kneels during the anthem is not allowed to play?
Football is America's favorite sport, so maybe it's time the NFL actually confront the issues facing the country rather than banish those who take a stand on them.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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