Drain the Swamp

Thoughts on Kaepernick, Nike, and America’s Former Favorite Sport

National Football League public relations problems are getting worse, not better, because fans are tired of kneeling players

Bob Casciola, a former college coach at Princeton, University of Connecticut, and Dartmouth and former president of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame, published a book in August — “First and Forever” — in defense of our great American institution.

The book chronicles the lives of former college players (yours truly included) whose lives have undergone dramatic changes as a direct result of the opportunities afforded by football.

I, of course, wanted to support the book and accordingly placed a brief post on my Facebook page. Almost immediately, a number of negative responses were received along the lines of “Sorry Bob, we are done with the NFL.” I was startled, as nowhere in my post did I mention pro football.

As noted above, the book is not about pro football, it’s about … football. Alas, I edited my original post to clarify that fact. My immediate takeaway:  The NFL’s public relations problems are far from over. See, for example, police unions in South Florida recently decided to boycott Miami Dolphins games in response to a number of Dolphins players kneeling prior to an exhibition game.

The NFL’s public relations problems are far from over.

(And yes, I use the vintage term — “exhibition game” — to describe these rip-off games wherein NFL owners charge full price for what amounts to boring scrimmages — half-empty stadiums speak to this annual phenomenon.)

Now add to the mix Nike’s regrettable decision to include Colin Kaepernick in its new ad campaign. My initial reaction upon hearing the news was one of anger and frustration.

Anger because there are so many other players who would fit the job description of groundbreaking, principled football players (Jim Brown, Pat Tillman). Now compare these names to a second-string quarterback barely hanging on in the NFL.

Related: Kaepernick Ad Makes James Woods Drop His Prestigious Nike Stock, Encourages Others to Follow

Frustration because the attempted narrative is continuously misapplied. All will remember a hyperdefensive NFL wrapping itself in patriotic themes (especially the flag) in the immediate aftermath of last season’s kneeling protests.

It seemed every pregame ceremony would include a gigantic American flag covering the entire field. The NFL wanted its fans to know it just loves those who volunteer to go into harm’s way in order to protect our freedoms. All of which is a wonderful notion, but not germane to Kaepernick’s protest.

Recall Kaepernick’s original comments. His protest was not about military action overseas, nor even the very legitimate issue of criminal justice reform. Rather, these actions and words were directed at the police, the men and women in blue who also protect us from the world’s miscreants. Kaepernick’s decision to wear “pig” socks to a San Francisco 49ers practice said it all. Funny how that incident is rarely recalled in today’s media reporting.

Interested folks on both sides of the Kaepernick divide should take the next step — attempt to figure out if the substance of his complaint is valid.  Two thoughts come to mind.

One concerns the fact that police can and do commit negligent acts; that there have been highly publicized cases wherein deadly force was used inappropriately against African-American men.

Related: Nike, Meet Barronelle Stutzman: She Believes in Something, She May Lose Everything

In a couple of these cases, police have been wrongfully exonerated. It is important to note the foregoing does not include Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. The evidence in both cases did not justify prosecution/conviction of the police officers involved, street legends to the contrary notwithstanding.

Still, a cautionary note to those of us who tend reflexively to support the police in these difficult cases: The damage inflicted on the public trust in lower income, predominately minority communities by a handful of such cases is immeasurable.

The second concerns Kaepernick’s central thesis, that there exists an organized campaign of police brutality targeting minority communities, especially African-American men. But the facts do not support the indictment.

In fact, the advent of de-escalation training techniques and additional mental health intervention teams have resulted in a decline in shootings of unarmed African-American men. For those who care to delve deeper into the facts, check out the excellent statistical analysis compiled by The Washington Post over the past three years.

Upon further review (so to speak), this conclusion is not terribly surprising. Black and Hispanic officers are heavily represented in urban police departments. Some are majority-minority departments. It would indeed be startling if the facts reflected a concerted campaign of police violence by minority police officers against … minority communities.

Many of you have grown tired of Kaepernick, kneeling players, and the disingenuous actions of the NFL. Still, sometimes it’s refreshing to revisit facts as opposed to popular narratives, either Right or Left.

I will leave it to you, the fans, to decide your preferred football days:  A) Friday. B) Saturday. C) Sunday.  At present, options A and B carry far less baggage.

Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich was Maryland’s chief executive from 2003 to 2007. He previously served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump and the End of Washington’s Regular Order.”

(photo credit, article image: NFL Fans, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Keith Allison)