Is Kap Too Big for the NFL?

Colin Kaepernick should be on an NFL roster. 

More specifically, Colin Kaepernick should be on the Chicago Football Bears. Even MORE specifically, every NFL GM who failed to signed Kap in the past five years should be forced to personally bankroll the campaign of one-to-five senators who would vote to reauthorize voting rights for Black people.

But Kap is not in the NFL. And even as the nation comes to agree that—shocker—the man the president called a “son of a bitch” for demanding an end to extrajudicial police killings was probably in the right, it doesn’t appear anyone is set to sign him.

That’s a travesty, but not a surprise. Be it domestic violence policies, player safety, or the definition of a catch, “travesty” is a pretty good word to describe most of the NFL. 

So the question at this point is really whether Kaepernick should even want to play in the NFL. His Nike deal is worth millions per year, with his own brand of apparel reportedly in the works. His Know Your Rights Camp has emerged as one of the most prominent civil rights organizations of the recent movement. He’s set to narrate an Ava Duvernay-produced Netflix docuseries about his life.

He is, in the most cliched way, bigger than football.

Which gets back to the question of whether it would even make sense for him to spend his time playing a game when he could be affecting policy. 

Certainly, he’s got every right to do whatever he wants, and I can say from experience* that it’s exceedingly fun to play professional football when you have his kind of arm strength, speed, and agility. He’s already done more than enough for one lifetime off the field, and no one would blame him for taking a nice payday to back up Tom Brady for the next 15 to 20 years.

But suddenly the NFL feels too small for him. His return would be like Jordan going to Birmingham, or Obama being president. Yeah, he can probably do it… but why would he?

With Washington changing its name and nearly every major sports league embracing his message, Kaepernick’s return at once feels inevitable and impossible. By blackballing him, the NFL has backed itself into a corner from which the only escape is a roster spot. But by so forcefully winning in this billion-dollar-industry vs. mobile-QB-from-Nevada fight, Kaepernick would be almost degrading himself if he were to return.

Admittedly, I’m probably getting ahead of myself. Maybe the NFL will continue to snub him. No one’s ever lost money betting on oligarchs to do the wrong thing.

But if the day comes when Kap suits back up in the NFL, it’s hard to imagine it’ll be satisfying.

*Legal note: I cannot say this from experience.

History Isn’t Being Erased. It’s Being Engraved.

As the protests following the death of George Floyd have mushroomed into a broad-based nationwide movement for criminal justice reform and racial equality, we have seen scores of statues and monuments associated with slavery and the Confederacy toppled. And on the heels of these dismantled monuments, like clockwork, traditionalists have emerged from the woodwork to admonish the protesters against “trying to erase history.” They would argue that we should leave intact these statues—which memorialize people who fought and died to protect the institution of slavery—because to destroy them would constitute an Orwellian revision of our history that would doom us to repeat it.

But to tear down these monuments to the progenitors of our nation’s greatest sin would not be to erase our history. In fact, it would accomplish the exact opposite: it would help accelerate the generations-long, arduous process of moving this horrific era in our nation’s past from the most accessible layers of our cultural memory, where it currently resides, to our history, where it belongs.

The distinction between memory and history is crucially important, because history is nothing more than a catalog of events that have filled our nation’s history, but memory is what those events mean to us and how we carry them today. We don’t get to choose our history, but to a large extent, we get to choose our memory. What is happening right now in cities across the nation is a rare and remarkable thing: enormous, powerful masses of American citizens declaring, in real time, that America’s shameful story of slavery belongs in its history, not in its memory. 

To remove something from our memory is not to diminish its importance or deny that there are valuable lessons (very valuable lessons) to be drawn from a certain piece of history. It is simply to assert that our children and our grandchildren and every generation thereafter should live in a nation where they study something as history, rather than live it as part of a present reality. In this case, it is an assault not on the history of slavery, but on its persisting legacy, which is perpetuated and reasserted every time someone walks past a Robert E. Lee High School or a Jefferson Davis Boulevard. After all, memory is what ties the past to the present, and to sever that cultural link is a vital step to moving on not just from a piece of history, but from its pervasive and lasting effects.

If citizens or governments don’t take deliberate, decisive action to turn memory into history, there’s no telling how long a piece of history can sit prominently in a nation’s cultural memory. Take Serbia, for example, whose most celebrated national holiday commemorates a battle that took place in 1389. Or look at the Middle East, where geopolitical relationships are complicated by a religious schism that happened in the 7th century. History can have tremendous staying power—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Americans tend not to look at history with as long a view as in most other parts of the world, so it doesn’t seem to occur to many people that this could be an issue that plagues our country for centuries to come. People seem to believe that, with the passage of time, the legacy of slavery will slowly evaporate like a glass of water. Perhaps they’re right. But it’s certainly not difficult to imagine this issue staying in our memory, lodged in our present rather than in our history, for generations and generations.

Doing away with publicly sanctioned monuments to those that fought to preserve slavery goes a long way toward dislodging its legacy from our memory and etching into the checkered annals of our history. It is but a fraction of the work that will be required to make reparations and forge a society anew, but it is among the easiest concrete things we can do right here and right now to move forward. To do so would not be a disservice to American history; the real disservice to American history would be to keep the legacy of slavery in its current role as a bedrock of our cultural memory.

White People Didn’t Know This Would Be On The Test

Listen closely. Do you hear it? Do you hear the sound of millions of white people furiously cramming for a test we had 400 years to prepare for?

Nationwide, bookstores and retailers are sold out of titles about how anti-Black racism has remained at the center of our society and how white people of all political persuasions have played an active role in upholding that intolerable status quo. Book clubs are eschewing Sheryl Sandberg for Robin DiAngelo, and local booksellers are placing bulk orders for How To Be An Antiracist

In film too the cramming is apparent, if a bit less heartening. Even as America reopens from the first part of Wave 1 of the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, citizens are staying home to watch The Help (sigh) and 13th (lfg). Even that sacred safe space for white complacency, podcastdom, has been overtaken by a fervor for racial justice.

In other words: at least 401 years after the first America-bound slave was kidnapped, brutalized, and brought to our shores; 237 years after the Constitution falsely claimed that its authors believed all men were created equal; 155 years after the enslaver’s rebellion was put down by force; 134 years after Rutherford B. Hayes traded generations of Black dreams for four years of power; 99 years after Black Wall Street was pillaged and burned by domestic terrorists; 65 years after Emmett Till was murdered; 57 years after Bull Connor’s attack dogs; 55 years after Malcolm X was murdered; 52 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered; 28 years after Rodney King was beaten; 8 years after Trayvon Martin was murdered; 6 years after Mike Brown and Laquan McDonald were murdered; 3 years after Eric Garner was murdered; 4 months after Ahmaud Arbery was murdered; 3 months after Breonna Taylor was murdered; and 2 weeks after George Floyd was murdered… white people have discovered we may have some work to do to dismantle white supremacy. 

Now, that sounds like a condemnation—and in part, it is. Cramming for a test we’ve had our whole lives to prepare for is deeply embarrassing. But feeling embarrassed and trying to educate ourselves are two of the better things we can do right now. The situation is deeply embarrassing and at the same time it’s encouraging. Understanding that contradiction is central to how we maintain the momentum of the last few weeks.

We wrote after Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and killed that we’d been here before, and that it had all become so sickeningly familiar. Now, this time feels different, no doubt. But for it to actually be different it’s going to require white people to finally do the work we’ve been putting off for half a millennium. 

So reading up, getting educated, and sharing resources is a good start. But it really is just a start, a bare minimum first step, and we can’t lose sight of how much damage has been done by waiting this long. If the last-second studying gets us anywhere, it’ll hopefully be a place where we start to conceptualize the work and time that’s needed to repair that damage. 

Image credit: 12 Books Written by Black Authors You Won’t Be Able to Put Down ✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿