The National Football League has an image problem and it’s not going to go away any time soon.
There are those who perceive that the No Fun League has blackballed free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick because of his stance against social injustice. For those just tuning in, last season when he was with the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick refused to stand when the national anthem was played prior to start of a game.
Kaepernick, who had taken the 49ers to the Super Bowl, preferred to take a knee. As a result, his action rattled fans and management. It also inspired other players to voice similar opinions and take similar stances.
This spring, Kaepernick exercised his right to become a free agent. He wanted to test the waters and has been unable to latch on to a team. There are 32 teams in the NFL and there arguably aren’t 32 better signal-callers.
Last week in Los Angeles, about three dozen protesters gathered at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where the new LA Rams were playing host to the Dallas Cowboys. The protesters held signs asking people to boycott the NFL and support Kaepernick.
On the field, players have carried on where Kaepernick left off. In Oakland, Marshawn Lynch sat on the bench while the “Star Spangled Banner” played. In Seattle, defensive end Michael Bennett also sat during the playing of the song. He says he will continue to do so as a form of protest for the social and racial injustice in America.
Bennett also said it would take a white player to take part in a national anthem protest to change the perception of the demonstration.
That perception changed Thursday prior to the Philadelphia Eagles-Buffalo Bills preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Newly acquired defensive end Chris Long wrapped his left arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who has been raising his right fist in protest since the second game of last season. Long kept his right hand over his heart.
It should be noted that Long, whose dad Howie played at Villanova before becoming an NFL Hall of Famer, is from Charlottesville, Va. Last weekend the quaint college town became a flashpoint for white supremacists, neo-Nazi sympathizers, the Ku Klux Klan and other malfunctioning hate groups to fight with counterprotesters over the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. It was supposed to be a rally but when you come armed with a helmet, goggles, a shield, shin guards and a bat, it’s a pretty good bet that there won’t be much talking.
It’s possible that Long’s move may lead others to participate in a planned rally Wednesday in New York City at the NFL headquarters in Manhattan. Filmmaker Spike Lee is calling for everyone to show up and voice their support for Kaepernick. It has the potential to be a gridlock-tightening event complete with a heavy police presence.
The NFL is still trying to cope with a recent study that found that 99 percent of deceased NFL players’ brains were found to be affected with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE.
A neurodegenerative brain disease, CTE can be found in individuals who have been exposed to repeated head trauma. The disease is pathologically marked by a buildup of abnormal tau protein in the brain that can disable neuropathways and lead to a variety of clinical symptoms some of which include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and sometimes suicidal behavior.
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