The National Football League and its owners and the big-ticket commissioner who works for those owners now get exactly what they want with Eric Reid, a former San Francisco 49er who can’t get a job in the league because of his political beliefs. They get a player who knelt for the national anthem right along with an out-of-work former teammate named Colin Kaepernick to take a different kind of knee.
They get Reid to take a knee because it has become abundantly clear to him that if he doesn’t, he might end up on the NFL’s scrap heap the way Kaepernick, who once quarterbacked his team to within a pass of winning a Super Bowl, already has.
Here is what Reid said the other day:
“I’m not saying I’m going to stop being active because I won’t. I’m just going to consider different ways to be active, different ways to bring awareness to the issues of this country and improve on the issues happening in this country. I don’t think it will be in the form of protesting during the anthem. I say ‘during’ because it’s crazy that the narrative changed to we were ‘protesting the anthem,’ and that wasn’t the case. I think we’re going to take a different approach to how we’re going to be active.”
Of course it is worth noting that this happens in the same week when a young African-American man named Stephon Clark, armed with a cell phone and not the kind of automatic weapon that white Americans have used to shoot up a series of American schools, was shot to death by police in the backyard of his grandparents’ home in Sacramento, Calif. This touched off the kind of protests in Sacramento we have witnessed in other American cities after the shooting of other young black men in this country by police; the kind of shootings that moved Kaepernick to take his own protest about justice in America and injustice to the sidelines of NFL games during the national anthem and then truly get treated like a criminal.
You know what happened. We all had a ringside seat. The narrative about Kaepernick and other players that the President called “SOBs” at a rally in Alabama that looked like an SEC football crowd in the 1950s, was that Kaepernick hated the flag and the military and real patriots and his country, and maybe Mom and apple pie. Kaepernick read and heard that dissent in America was now unpatriotic and un-American, even though the opposite has always been true.
So he became unemployable and Reid, among the first to join him in protest, may turn out to be unemployable. NFL owners and Roger Goodell, their guy, paid a lot of lip service to their players’ rights to their own political beliefs. But once those beliefs were seen as terrible for business, it turned just about all of them into cowards. Bob McNair, the great patriot who owns the Houston Texans, actually said that big guys like him couldn’t let the inmates run the prison.
But something important happened in the aftermath of Stephon Clark being shot 20 times by the Sacramento police, as protests outside the Sacramento Kings’ arena the other night reached all the way to the doors of that arena and finally made the team and the police close the doors. The owner of the team, Vivek Ranadive, took a microphone and stood on the court along with his players, and said this:
“We at the Kings recognize people’s abilities to protest peacefully, and we respect that. We here at the Kings realize that we have a big platform. It’s a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously, and we stand here before you, old, young, black, white, brown, and we are all united in our commitment. We recognize that it is not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place, starting in our own community.”
Ranadive, an immigrant from Bombay at a time when immigrants are also under attack in America, was almost universally praised for what he said the other night in Sacramento, in a moment when protesters were not just outside his arena but had shut down roads in that city; when those protesters did a lot more than simply take a knee during the playing of the anthem before a sporting event, in a league that once took millions and millions from the Department of Defense for displays of patriotism and flyovers and even flag unfurlings during NFL games.
Again, look at the money quote from Ranadive:
“We at the Kings recognize people’s abilities to protest peacefully, and we respect that.” Ranadive does this in the NBA, which wants to be seen as far more enlightened than the NFL, but told its players, in what it considered a respectful way, that they better stand while the anthem was being played, or else.
But where did all of the controversy begin? It began with Kaepernick’s decision to protest what he perceived to be racial injustice in this country, and far too many shootings like the one that took the life of 22-year-old Stephon Clark in Sacramento. Kaepernick made mistakes along the way. He did. He wore socks one day at practice that featured the images of policemen as pigs, and did himself no good, or his own message, with a message like that. But the idea that Kaepernick’s beliefs and his quiet show of dissent before 49ers football games were anti-military or anti-American was cockeyed from the beginning, even as so many Americans, including the one who runs the country, used it like a club against him.
Now it could be used against a teammate who showed solidarity with Kaepernick’s message from the beginning. This is a shameful thing. But Reid has clearly gotten the message from the men and women who own teams in his league. He better go along if he wants to get along. So he takes a different kind of knee now as a way of perhaps helping himself get a job, and makes you understand, fully, that the ones doing the protesting aren’t the SOBs, nor have they ever been.
Bad Bay Area breaks, wonder of Saquon & end of I-Man era . . .
– If you want to know how the next minute is the one that can change everything in sports, look at what happened with that comebacker to Madison Bumgarner the other day.
Look at what is happening with Steph Curry.
– It’s worth mentioning that as close as Tiger Woods got to the lead last Sunday at Bay Hill, he ended up losing by eight strokes to Rory McIlroy, whose best is still better than everybody else’s best in golf when he’s healthy.
And also worth mentioning that Tiger would have had to shoot a 60 last Sunday to beat McIlroy in the end.
– March Madness continues to be the most amazing pageant in American sports, one in which casual fans know the name of a 98-year-old nun from Loyola of Chicago better than they know the names of any of the Loyola players.
But you sure have to say this about the Big Dance and the Diaper Dandies making all those buzzer-beaters in the run-up to the Really Big Dance at the Final Four:
Nobody has been wearing you out on television with stories about players taking money from agents and the feds putting a different kind of fullcourt press on this sport, and doing a lot more than just busting brackets in the process.
– I don’t know how the first three rounds of the NFL draft are going to play out.
Have no idea which college quarterback the Jets might end up with now that they traded up to get the third pick.
But I believe this, whomever they take and whomever the Giants take, even if draft history is littered with high-pick running backs that never made it big in the NFL:
The most talented player coming out of college this time is Saquon Barkley of Penn State.
Come on, which team in the NBA should be better at losing than the Knicks are after what we’ve seen from them over the past 17 seasons?
Losing is kind of their thing, right?
– I don’t want Aaron Judge to lead off.
I get all the thinking and analytics on this.
But the whole thing just looks like that is too cute by half.
I want Judge and Stanton back-to-back and, well, belly-to-belly the way Gehrig and Ruth were, and Mickey and Roger Maris were.
But that’s me.
– Finally today:
One of the great careers in the history of radio comes to end this week, when Don Imus, who likes to call himself the old cowboy, will ride off, at least for now.
He showed up from Cleveland at WNBC in the early ’70s, and didn’t change the business of early-morning radio.
He changed the whole business.
And all he did later was do more than anybody else to make sports radio in this country, even though he wasn’t doing a sports show, when he moved “Imus in the Morning” to WFAN.
Suddenly that station was the biggest-billing radio station anywhere, and it started with him, every morning at six.
Did he get himself into bad trouble later because of what he said about the women on the Rutgers basketball team?
Everybody knows he did.
That is part of his history, too, and his story.
He paid a big price for what he said about young women who deserved so much better, losing his job at FAN and on MSNBC.
But he and his wife Deirdre also started a ranch for kids with cancer outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that is part of his history, too, and his story.
Imus always said, “Everybody thinks it’s funny until it’s about them,” and he happens to be right about that.
It seemed as if everybody in town got it from him at one time or another, including me.
But after he got fired, he came back again, on radio at WABC and on television at the Fox Business channel.
It’s not like he leaves and takes his station or the business or early-morning radio with him.
But you have to know that mornings around here won’t be quite the same without him.
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