On August 23, a rally described as a “nonviolent direct action” will gather in front of the NFL’s Park Avenue Headquarters. A host of civil-rights organizations will protest the exile-status of free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
There is no indication that Kaepernick is connected to the rally, but his endorsement is irrelevant: The issue has become something far bigger than the makeup of an NFL roster. The Kaepernick story isn’t just about a quarterback looking for employment, but about whether, in the Trump/Bannon era, speaking out against police violence and institutionalized racism can cost you your job. The rally aims to make sure that Colin Kaepernick never becomes a cautionary tale, a ghost story meant to scare people—athletes or otherwise—from speaking out. As civil-rights legend Harry Belafonte said in support of the protest: “When a black voice is raised in protest to oppression, those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.”
This rally isn’t only fueled by Kaepernick’s unsigned status. It’s also a response to the official reasons put forth by NFL executives and their media mouthpieces, which have moved from outrage to farce to insult. First the “NFL experts,” in full disinformation mode, said that he was unsigned because he wasn’t good enough. Then they said he wanted too much money. Then they expressed worry that he was not in good enough shape because he is a vegan. Then they said that the starting jobs are all filled up, and he might just be too good to be a backup. As a long line of sub-par quarterbacks were signed—including some who had been retired, were selling real estate, had thrown for negative yards in college, threw more interceptions in a game last season than Kaepernick tossed all year, or were best known for being part of NFL blooper-reels—a quarterback who threw for 16 touchdowns and 4 picks last season, and who took the San Francisco 49ers within one play of winning the Super Bowl in 2012, still finds himself out of work.