Roger Goodell and the NFL Need to Say Kaepernick was Right and Say Systemic Racism is Wrong

The tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police and the protests that ensued is exactly why Kaepernick took a knee four years ago   

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Colin Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid (left) take a kneel during the national anthem to protest the unarmed killings of Black people by the police. Kaepernick remains unsigned since 2017.

“We lost because my guys didn’t stand up with me and I can’t make any excuse for them. Had we shown any amount of solidarity, if the superstars had stood up and said we’re with Curt Flood. If the superstars had walked into that courtroom and made their presence known, I think that the owners would have gotten the message and given me a chance to win that.” Curt Flood after losing his Supreme Court case to end Baseball’s Reserve Clause in 1972.

I start this column with the above quote as the nation is reeling from demonstrations and riots after the tragic death of George Floyd, an African-American who was unjustly strangled to death by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin despite his desperate plea of “I can’t breathe.”

I was moved by the Twitter comments of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz who expressed a sadness felt by many: “All I know is that the institutional racism in this country breaks my heart and needs to stop. Can’t even fathom what the Black community has to endure on a daily basis.”

Throughout the NFL, several high-profile white players including six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and Joe Burrows, the Cincinnati Bengals No. 1 draft pick and 2019 Heisman Trophy winner, have expressed empathy for what happened in Minneapolis. 

But then, I flashed back to the 2016 season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and raise awareness of systemic racism. None of those white players, with the exception of players like Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long, were vocally supporting Kaepernick’s protest.     

I wonder what would have happened if other higher-profile white superstars had come out for Kaepernick? Would he have gotten another job?  Hmmm. What if New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had really understood why Kaepernick was protesting instead of just coming out against it?

Kaepernick’s protest, while supported by a few players (both Black and white), was not only vilified as being anti-American, anti-flag and unpatriotic by a large number of white fans who expressed their rage in a variety of ways including burning his jersey.  

On top of that, the Idiot-in-Chief, President Donald J. Trump, felt the need to gin things up by calling for retribution against the players engaging in anthem protests. While speaking at one of his infamous rallies, Trump said of Kaepernick,: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.” 

Even more troubling was that more than a few NFL executives branded Kaepernick as a traitor and made sure that he would never get another job with an NFL team for daring to bring awareness to systemic racism in America.

Joe Lockhart, who served as the NFL’s executive vice president in charge of communication and government affairs, said in a piece on CNN.com that the owners felt Kaepernick’s protest was “bad’ for business. Despite efforts by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to persuade the teams to sign Kaepernick, the owners were dedicated to keeping him out.

“That symbol of racial injustice was reinforced every day that Colin sat on the outside of the football world,” Lockhart wrote. “It may have seemed like a good business decision for the clubs not to sign him and it certainly wasn’t illegal, but it was wrong.”

Unfortunately, it took another the unnecessary, on-camera death of another Black man at the hands of a police officer to get some of the NFL’s white players to understand why Kaepernick was taking a knee. 

I am hoping that the unrest in cities from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City will finally bring the owners to their senses and get them to acknowledge that the blackballing of Kaepernick was morally wrong and unfair. Given that 85% of the NFL’s players are African-Americans, isn’t silence in the face of bigotry and systemic racism also bad for business?

Goodell and the owners need to do what they did for Michael Vick when he was let back into the league after being suspended for dogfighting. Vick not only owned up to his transgressions, but he also became a part of solving the problem by becoming an anti-dog fighting advocate.    

The NFL, led by Goodell and the owners, needs to acknowledge that keeping Kaepernick out of the league was wrong and give him a real opportunity to resume his career.

But more importantly than that, the NFL has to show some respect for it’s mostly Black workforce and the league’s Black fans by truly involving themselves in the fight to end systemic racism in America instead of just throwing money at the problem.

Because whether they like it or not, the NFL needs to recognize that unlike appeasing an angry player with an incentive laden contract, the problem of systemic racism won’t be solved by throwing money at it.

Baltimore Riots Symbolize Politicians Neglect of the Poor and Disenfranchised

Civil unrest in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray's death at the hands of the police. Photo courtesy of Salon.com

Civil unrest in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of the police. Photo courtesy of Salon.com

The CVS Pharmacy at Pennsylvania and North Avenue in Baltimore after was burned down Monday night by rioters.  Photo courtesy of Newsweek.com

The CVS Pharmacy at Pennsylvania and North Avenue in Baltimore after was burned down Monday night by rioters. Photo courtesy of Newsweek.com

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Few things are worse than watching as your home burns to the ground, knowing that you’re powerless to do anything about it and that the people who could have prevented this have decided that it wasn’t in their best interest to do it.

It’s a feeling that I’ve been experiencing most of this week as I’ve watched hours and hours of news coverage of the riots in Baltimore that have followed the protests of the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the city’s police.

You see, for me Baltimore is home. It’s where I was born and raised. I went to the city’s schools. I graduated from Morgan State University. I used to sell beer and hot dogs at the old Memorial Stadium.

So seeing my home burn to the ground, and watching the coverage on television and social media, has saddened me.

It’s also pissed me off.

But my anger isn’t necessarily directed at the young people who are burning police cars and looting stores. It’s not even really directed at news outlets like Fox and CNN that didn’t think the peaceful protests that were also going on was all that important because there wasn’t sufficient Black dysfunction to hold their interest.

My issue was with the respectability politics that seemed to rise with the fires, providing its own foul stench. Baltimore’s politicians and regular citizens, almost all of whom are Black, seemed to care more about the destruction of property and appearances that they seemed to forget the reason why these kids were so mad in the first place.

Freddie Gray is dead. And while insurance will cover the costs of rebuilding the CVS, no amount of insurance is going to bring him back.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone the rioting that often destroys Black communities and does nothing to solve the problem. But I also don’t condone the fact that people would rather not acknowledge that this unrest from our youth is a cry for help from a community of poor, Black, human beings who have been long neglected by the politicians and other adults who were supposed to look out for them.

Oddly enough, someone you wouldn’t have expected to have noticed this pointed it out. Although his team was forced to cancel two games due to the unrest, John Angelos, the chief operating officer of the Baltimore Orioles, still managed to keep what was happening in the city in perspective.

He tweeted the following:

“We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S. and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights and this makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

Or, in other words, the riots in my hometown are the result of long-time neglect of problems associated with poverty, lack of education funding and the criminalization of poverty.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s the recipe for every bout of civil unrest that’s taken place over the last few years.

For example, in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown where Gray’s funeral was held, the unemployment rate is at 52 percent.

And the death of Gray, who had his spinal cord crushed, was the tipping point of a problem that has been festering for a long time. According to an investigation by the Baltimore Sun, the city has had to pay out more than $5.7 million in awards and settlements in 100 cases of police brutality since 2011.

It’s funny that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake failed to call the cops “thugs” like she did the kids who were rioting and looting. If severing someone’s neck isn’t part of the definition of “thuggery”, you need to tell me what is.

Part of the reason why I’ve always felt at home in Philadelphia is because of how similar it is to my hometown of Baltimore.

Because of that, I find myself asking the same questions of the elected officials in my hometown, most of whom are Black, that I’m asking in my new home as the May Primary approaches.

What have you done, Mayor Blake and your fellow Black office holders, to provide jobs, fix a broken education system, stop institutional racism or improve the overall quality of life for your constituents? My guess is, not much.

So it’s time to bring up the “A” word: accountability.

It’s about time that we, and when I say “we” I mean the politicians in both my ancestral home and my new home, to hold all our politicians accountable without regard to race or party affiliation. It’s time to fervently push them to solve the issues of our cities.

Because if we don’t, we’ll be having the conversation that President Barack Obama talked about when he addressed the riots in the Rose Garden on Tuesday.

“If we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could,” he said. “It’s just that it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention because we consider those kids our kids and we think they’re important and they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.”

The CVS Pharmacy on Pennsylvania and North will be fine thanks to insurance and the largess of a multi-billion dollar corporation, but there will always be a void in the Gray family and for that matter in the Black community in my hometown.

But if what’s going on in Baltimore causes us to pay more attention to what’s going on in cities like it across the country, another city might be able to avoid The Fire Next Time.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Rams Players Were Right to Stand up For Michael Brown

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

(from left to right):  Stedman  Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  Photo by Huffington Post.

(from left to right): Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt expressed their solidarity with activists protesting against the no indictment ruling in favor of Ferguson police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Photo by Huffington Post.

As a long-time sportswriter and columnist, one thing I have never done in print or cyberspace is openly express my fandom for a particular team, especially those I cover on a regular basis.

But last Sunday I became a fan of five members of the St. Louis Rams—Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Kenny Britt, not so much for what they did on the field in a 52-0 shutout of the Oakland Raiders, but for what they did before the game.

As they came out of the tunnel to begin the game, Bailey, Austin, Cook, Givens and Britt displayed, “the hands up, don’t shoot” gesture made popular during in Ferguson, Missouri during demonstrations protesting the decision of a St. Louis County Grand Jury not to indict former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Britt and rookie running back Tre Mason also performed the gesture during the game after scoring touchdowns.

Rams fans at Edward Jones Dome  in St. Louis express their views about the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michel Brown in Ferguson, Mo.  Photo by CBS local in St. Louis.

Rams fans at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis express their views about the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michel Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Photo by CBS local in St. Louis.

Black men, whether they be athletes or a sports writers, recognize that any of us can be victims of violence at the hands of police officers in the same way  Brown, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was recently shot to death in Cleveland while wielding a toy gun- were killed by the cops.

But usually, athletes tend to stay on the sidelines while others take to the streets in protest of yet another instance of the missive “There’s no justice, there’s just-us”. The possibility of lost endorsements, lost prestige and lost contract dollars tends to be their first thought.

In the tradition of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics, the players decided to use their place on the NFL stage to highlight just how big a problem police brutality is, and how important it is to solve it.

“I just think there has to be a change,” Cook told the Associated Press. “There has to be a change that starts with the people that are most influential around the world.”

There was the inevitable push back, however, and it came from the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association. The SLPOA called on the NFL to discipline the players and make them apologize to police for making the gesture, which they called “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.”

While the Police Association acknowledged the player’s First Amendment rights, they also threatened to mount a protest of their own against the League.

“Cops have First Amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours,” said Jeff Roorda, a spokesman for the Police Association. “I’d remind the N.F.L. and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertisers’ products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other N.F.L towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the N.F.L. and the Rams, it’ll be cops and their supporters.”

(I should probably mention here that Roorda isn’t really a cop anymore. He was fired from his job as a cop in Arnold, Missouri for making false statements. Irony…)

To their credit, the NFL refused to bow down to the schoolyard bullies of the Police Association and discipline the players for exercising their First Amendment rights. I guess that Roger Goodell is too busy dealing with domestic violence and child abuse to add “attempting to change the Constitution because some cop’s feelings got hurt” to his to-do list.

But my question to the St. Louis Police Officer Association is what’s next? Will they threaten the thousands of protestors every time they point out an injustice by the cops? Will they racially profile the Rams’ Black players or refuse to provide security at future Rams games because someone dared to take a stand against the problem of police shooting unarmed Black men?

You would think in this time of heightened tensions between the African-American community and law enforcement that the St. Louis Police Officers Association would be coming up with ways to build better relationships with people of color. But all this did was reinforce the deep mistrust that many African Americans already had of the police.

While it wasn’t new, the Rams pre-game protest was refreshing in a day and age where prominent athletes shy away from anything controversial.

With their silent gesture, they spoke volumes.