Donald Trump had some incredibly volatile things to say — imagine that — about NFL players who choose to protest racial inequality and violence in the United States. Trump referred to any player who participated in such a protest a “son of a bitch” and said those players should be fired.
On Friday evening, we saw Teresa Kaepernick’s response to those comments, and on Saturday morning, we were treated to a pretty nothing response from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has always been very careful to show a real lack of support for such demonstrations.
The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.
Goodell, as usual, gave a very middling response with no real support for his players, the cause or Trump’s actual comments. Not long after Goodell’s nothing response, NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith came out with his own statement, and it’s much more in line with an appropriate response.
The peaceful demonstrations by some of our players have generated a wide array of responses. Those opinions are protected speech and a freedom that has been paid for by the sacrifice of men and women throughout history. This expression of speech has generated thoughtful discussions in our locker rooms and in board rooms. However, the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just "shut up and play."
NFL players do incredible things to contribute to their communities. NFL players are a part of a legacy of athletes in all sports who throughout history chose to be informed about the issues that impact them and their communities. They chose - and still choose today - to do something about those issues rather than comfortably living in the bubble of sports. Their decision is no different from the one made by countless others who refused to let "what they do" define or restrict "who they are" as Americans.
No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights. No worker nor any athlete, professional or not, should be forced to become less than human when it comes to protecting their basic health and safety. We understand that our job as a Union is not to win a popularity contest and it comes with a duty to protect the rights of our members. For that we make no apologies and never will.
The last line is notable for a lot of reasons that stick with me. The NFLPA protects a lot of players that do bad things because they’re expected to, and sometimes it’s hard to agree with them as an organization. But here they are making a strong stand on peaceful demonstrations, something that Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and players around the league have been doing from the beginning.
Unfortunately, Smith’s statement won’t be enough. Goodell’s own nothing response and the fact that the de-facto leader of this country is so adamantly attached to his own ignorance mean that there are going to be high-profile opponents to what are, again, peaceful protests.
Kaepernick is something we’ve covered at length here at Niners Nation and we’re not going to stop any time soon (Fooch has typically done this, and I’ve mostly watched, but hey, no time like the present to jump in). He’s good enough to play in the NFL and the only reason he’s not is because he started this national conversation.
I don’t agree with every political statement Kaepernick has made — heck, I think his opinions on voting are some of the dumbest I’ve ever heard — but it’s a mighty injustice that he’s jobless at this time and it’s upsetting that someone like Goodell isn’t more interested in condemning that kind of ultimate result and disheartening that the NFLPA is, once again, at odds with the league in an issue you’d hope for unity on.