Bomani Jones joined Off The Ball on Wednesday to discuss the militarization of sports in America and Colin Kaepernick.
Since 9/11, America has been a completely different place. The recent end of the war in Afghanistan does not change the fact that terrorism and the threat of terrorism impact the daily lives of Americans more now than ever before.
Although it seems like a trivial topic in that context, sports have played a prominent role in politics since then.
None more so than when Colin Kaepernick protested police brutality and institutional racism during the playing of the National Anthem before a preseason NFL game in 2016. During a prolonged conversation about the relationship between politics and sports in America with Joe Molloy, host of The Right Time on ESPN Bomani Jones discussed Kaepernick's protest.
"Never forget, he did it once in that preseason and nobody noticed," Jones said.
"And then he did it a second time and people were like 'Let's hear what he has to say.' When he was so very clear on what his disagreements were, what his problems were then it became a problem."
Kaepernick finished out that season but has not played in the NFL since that point despite being in the prime years of his career. He very quickly went from starting in a Super Bowl to a fully healthy free agent that nobody wanted.
He was the only player who protested and then saw his career end prematurely with no other viable reasoning.
"Everyone who kneeled after him was protected. The league ultimately said to the guys who kneeled after him 'we have no problem with you kneeling, you can go ahead and do that or however you decide to protest during the national anthem.'
"The league ultimately decided that if that's what you guys want to do, you go ahead and do that.
"Colin was punished for not asking for permission, ultimately. And for speaking with the level of clarity that he had because even when Eric Reid said a lot of the same things that he had, he wound up getting more chances in the NFL.
"Guys like Michael Bennett or Marshawn Lynch who wouldn't stand for the national anthem but never really explained why it was, and Marcus Peters is another example, all those guys still played in the league.
"Colin Kaepernick, it was not simply that he was saying what he was saying, it was that he had the audacity to do it without permission.”
Kaepernick continued to train after going unsigned in free agency. He eventually signed an endorsement deal with Nike but his impact outside of football was still somewhat limited. He started a conversation and pushed it forward by staying vocal and staying active, but the NFL successfully let him fade away by co-opting his movement and keeping him out of the league.
That was until the murder of George Floyd changed everything.
"What's happened since George Floyd is most of the stuff was then permitted.
"I think the NFL looked around and realized you create martyrs when you oppose this. What would be smarter for you to do is to participate with the players who feel these ways, who are doing these things.
"So you wind up with things like the Players Coalition, which has actually done a lot of good work but the NFL has the controlling majority on the board of the Players Coalition and so that controls exactly what it winds up doing.
"The imagery post-George Floyd, the 'It Takes All of Us' campaign, and the #StopRacism and all those things, they're still on the field in 2021 after 2020. The NBA had to wipe all that stuff off. The NFL is still doing all those things, but quietly.
"They figured out how to kind of support the players in what they're doing but without it being in everybody's faces in those ways. And I think that is the post-George Floyd lesson. The ruling class of the country learned that if they participate with it just a little bit, they can quiet down a lot of the larger protests that raise the more striking and pointed questions.”