By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) If you’re an NFL consumer, you’re used to being lied to. Hell, you probably prefer it.
Steroids, pain killer addictions, degenerative brain diseases, players with issues of violence against women — none of that is making you stop watching. That’s the negotiation you make for the entertainment, and you’d just assume such topics not be brought up so you can keep enjoying something you value for yourself over those issues affecting others.
It’s quite bothersome to have the perfect vacuum of football disrupted by the real world. Where another major sport like the NBA largely embraces sports’ constant intersection with the political, the NFL usually only crisscrosses the quaint little lane of superfluous patriotism.
Because we’re told that everything in the NFL is wonderful because football is our national religion and therefore has to be wonderful. That religion is a reflection on much of the mentality of the nation and vice versa. Any heresy must be excommunicated for the sake of both the pigskin church’s well-being and the insulated attitudes toward the game and the country football provides most fans.
Colin Kaepernick is clearly a heretic. He threatens the vacuum, mostly by complicating the way NFL fans would like to be lied to. Therefore, he isn’t allowed to join in the Sunday services anymore, and the NFL has no honest explanation for it.
His sins aren’t speaking out against the destructive issues of football itself. Those converts away from the light and truth that football is pure and good — like 26-year-old Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel last week or three San Francisco 49ers who were 30 or younger in 2015 who chose to save their brains — are quickly processed and forgotten. Worship remains strong.
No, Kaepernick still believes, still wants to participate. But his mission within the church has become one of greater intersectionality. He believes his most righteous work is using his football celebrity to preach awareness of societal ills, most notably unrighteous police shootings.
“When will they be held accountable?” he asked more than a month-and-a-half before infamously refusing to stand for the national anthem.
It’s a difficult question to confront, and rank-and-file worshippers hate difficult questions.
The NFL as gladiatorial wing of the status quo won’t stand for this kind of insubordination. A social conscience from a player is supposed to be safe — have a sketchy charity for intellectually and developmentally disabled people like Tom Brady does or raise cancer awareness so long as it doesn’t violate the stupid NFL uniform policy. Get kids to exercise and “Play 60” (preferably by playing your sport). That stuff affects all people, so it’s cool to approach. Stand up for uncontroversial ways of helping “acceptable” people.
Kaepernick is a PR issue that destroys a lot of phony football PR. Criticism of cops — agents of the government — isn’t cool to the status quo because the status quo sees police as the slogan on the side of the squad car: “to protect and serve.” Who is protected and served, though? Marginalized people often have a different answer to that question, and historical patterns of police violence stretching all the way back to the slave catchers whom Kaepernick recently referenced present a conundrum.
Couple that with Kaepernick’s refusal to show admiration for an inanimate object representing American and football fan dissonance like the flag and anthem, and he has become too subversive for the pigskin church. He complicates its lies.
You hear a lot about football building character and helping to create great men. Ravens coach John Harbaugh wrote an essay, “Why Football Matters,” in which he said:
The game challenges and pushes us. It’s often uncomfortable. It requires us to be at our best.
Isn’t that what we want in our society?
Football is a great sport. Football teams can be, and very often are, the catalyst for good in our schools and our communities. Millions of young men have learned lessons in football that they could only learn through playing this game. Football has saved lives.
That is why football matters.
Yet Kaepernick is using his football celebrity to challenge and push us, making us necessarily uncomfortable. He’s trying to save lives, not just in discussions of police violence but very much putting his own money where his mouth is in donating lots of time and cash to a variety of important causes.
His football matters.
You’ll also hear those who worship football talk of building good teammates and how that can translate into other walks of life, how football solders a brotherhood among the participants. And here is Kaepernick, heretic, in 2016 winning the Len Eshmont Award, “the 49ers’ most prestigious annual honor . . . given each year to the 49er who best exemplifies the ‘inspirational and courageous play’ of Len Eshmont.”
That award is voted on by teammates, that brotherhood.
If Kaepernick’s cause was slightly less an affront to the status quo, they’d be making a Disney movie about it tomorrow. But the vacuum dismisses issues of dead people at the hands of the state because the messenger wore pig socks and a Fidel Castro shirt. Insinuate the messenger is a Muslim, too, for good measure to really tap into the close-minded phobias of the church.
And every other week this offseason, an NFL team needs a quarterback. And every other week we are fed dishonesty by those teams as to why it isn’t Kaepernick, whose stats are there. Objectively worse quarterbacks have been signed this offseason. This has never been an issue of talent no matter how many of blind faith want to reach for that. There’s no valid explanation as to why he currently has no NFL job other than collaborated excommunication.
Kaepernick is using his religious position to stand for something, nailing to our comfortable doors a set of theses that point out our societal indulgences and ignorance. The NFL doesn’t stand for anything besides indulging in willful ignorance and never has.
Hundred-yard flags that you better stand for don’t stand for the same America that Kaepernick believes in, but they do represent the America he stands against, one that cloaks the dishonest church of football.
He doesn’t blindly worship, and he exposes the lies in the faith. Because he’s asking worshippers to be more conscious, and despite his clear ability to play football better than players who have roster spots, he’s not welcome on Sundays anymore.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.