Sharpton isn’t the first activist to mention Kaepenick this week. Malcolm Jenkins is a member of the New Orleans Saints, well-known for his activism and conspicuous recently for having slammed teammate Drew Brees harder than anyone else in the league for saying that he thought it was disrespectful to kneel during the national anthem. The Brees flap was somewhat smoothed over a few days later when a group of black NFL players asked the league in a viral video to admit that it had been wrong when it tried to stop players from peacefully protesting. Which commissioner Roger Goodell immediately did, in those express terms.
But there was something missing from Goodell’s response — and the players’ video — that made that admission of wrongdoing easier for the NFL than it might otherwise have been. Colin Kaepernick was never named. Goodell didn’t single him out for an apology. And the players didn’t single him out in asking for an apology, interestingly enough.
Gayle King noticed and asked Jenkins about it today. Jenkins had noticed too.
“I still don’t think they got it right. Until they apologize specifically to Colin Kaepernick or assign him to a team, I don’t think they will end up on the right side of history.” — @MalcolmJenkins on Roger Goodell and the @NFL pic.twitter.com/mXlqLtuhBj
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) June 9, 2020
I understand why Goodell didn’t mention Kaepernick. It’s one thing to admit error in the abstract, it’s another to concede that a particular person with whom you’ve been battling legally and politically for years, with the president of the United States hooting at you from the sidelines not to wimp out all the while, actually had the better of the argument. What I don’t understand is why the players didn’t pressure Goodell to do that, knowing that political momentum is on their side right now. Did Goodell somehow get a message to them before they released their video that he’d be willing to capitulate on protests during the anthem so long as they didn’t make him eat sh*t on Kaepernick?
If he did, why did they cut him that break? Like I say, given the politics of the moment, he probably would have had to cave and comply with them anyway.
Meanwhile, Trump is doing his best to insert himself into the league’s internal politics, tweeting this two days ago…
Could it be even remotely possible that in Roger Goodell’s rather interesting statement of peace and reconciliation, he was intimating that it would now be O.K. for the players to KNEEL, or not to stand, for the National Anthem, thereby disrespecting our Country & our Flag?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2020
…but Will Leitch makes an apt point about that at New York mag today. It’s not just that political momentum has shifted towards Kaepernick’s position, it’s that political momentum has shifted away from Trump, and not just on issues of race and police brutality. At a moment when his reelection has never looked more doubtful, his enemies are freer than ever to just ignore him.
It’s not as if there’s much evidence that Trump’s threats to the NFL ever held a lot of power in the first place. It’s true that the NFL’s two lowest-rated recent years for television — forever the barometer for the league — were in fact when Trump was going after them the most. But many, many, many studies showed that the reasons for that had nothing to do with Trump or his supporters. The ratings only declined slightly anyway, and they’ve rocketed up the last two years, again, for reasons that have nothing to do with Trump or politics…
How is the league going to deal with Trump trying to turn this into a wedge issue once again? I think Goodell and the NFL are going to just ignore him. The players have shown the power they have in this situation, and their willingness to wield it. The fan base has shown it isn’t actually going to stop watching football because of Trump’s perpetual culture war. And the owners and the league itself haven’t lost a dime in the past because of Trump’s various attempts to mess with their business. You can’t help but wonder, for the rest of this summer and fall, if this strategy will become a bit of a modus operandi with Trump every time he tries to start some sh*t for his own purposes. Railing on Amazon because of the Washington Post? Yelling at some television network? Trying to put pressure on an individual reporter? The proper response, it’s becoming increasingly clear, is to either pretend he doesn’t exist — or maybe even to actively defy him. He’s not the Trump of three years ago. The movement and the people are more powerful than he is, and they always were. Roger Goodell knows that now. The NFL knows that now. Maybe, now, we all do.
It would be a bad outcome for the president in September, two months out from the election, if the league resumes play and the players all kneel in unison during the anthem and he freaks out and … nothing happens. Ratings are likely to be solid, driven by fans famished for the return of sports after lockdowns, and the grassroots backlash may be muted. If Trump makes a stink anyway, the media will drive him batty with stories about how he’s lost his grip on the culture and might soon lose his grip on his job as well. There is some risk to him in demanding that the league choose between him and the flag on the one hand and Kaepernick and the players on the other.
Anyway, here’s Sharpton demanding justice for Kaepernick at today’s funeral service for George Floyd. It’s Goodell’s move.
Rev. Al Sharpton addressing Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL:
“Well don’t apologize — give Colin Kaepernick a job back.” pic.twitter.com/D0s3537Xes
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 9, 2020