After New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft met with jailed rapper Meek Mill earlier this week, he declared that “we have to do something with criminal justice reform."
The move raised eyebrows. Why?
Because Kraft heads one of the NFL’s most politically conservative franchises.
That moment also contained a bit of irony that is inescapable: Mr. Kraft represents a league that has apparently barred a player from future employment over his protest of the National Anthem, demonstrations designed to bring attention to issues of criminal justice reform and police brutality.
While Kraft’s support of Meek Mill appears genuine, it isn’t nearly enough to vanquish the dross that has tarnished the NFL’s image. It appears that the richest league in professional sports is also the most regressive, authoritarian and antiquated when it comes to promoting the rights of free speech to its employees.
Case in point: The Seattle Seahawks reportedly reneged on inviting Kaepernick to a workout because he would not give them any assurances that he would refrain from protesting the anthem, according to one report.
The Seahawks, whom Rolling Stone magazine article once dubbed the social justice warriors of the NFL, clarified its stance via a tweet from NFL Network analyst Ian Rapoport.
The #Seahawks did postpone a tentatively scheduled workout with Colin Kaepernick, as @AdamSchefter reported. It was not because he said he declined to stop kneeling, tho. The team asked for his plan moving forward on how to handle everything and there was not a firm plan.
Last year, a handful of Seahawks players like Michael Bennett (now with the Philadelphia Eagles), Jeremy Lane and Cliff Avril supported Kaepernick by kneeling and/or locking arms in protest.
Eric Reid, the first person to kneel with Kaepernick during the 2016 season, remains unsigned like his former teammate. Earlier this week, Reid was questioned by Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown about whether he would continue to protest the anthem as well. When Brown and the Bengals invited the free agent safety in for a workout, the conversation “almost exclusively” centered on kneeling during the anthem, according to ProFootballTalk. The belief is that if Reid discontinued his protests he would be employed by the team.
If the safety remains unemployed, it’s not because he isn’t a competent player on the field.
According to ProFootball Focus, Reid was ranked 30th out of 120 qualified safeties with a grade of 81.4.
For a point of comparison, the Carolina Panthers recently signed Da’Norris Searcy, the 61st rated safety from last season, to a two-year, $5.7 million contract. The New Orleans Saints also signed Kurt Coleman, the 76th rated safety from 2017, to a three-year contract.
In a sport where youth and athleticism are privileged over experience, Searcy and Coleman are almost three years older than Reid.
Said Sports Illustrated writer Peter King in his recent Monday Morning Quarterback column, “If San Francisco safety Eric Reid does not get signed, it sends a chilling message about free speech to every NFL player who would think about protesting anything.”
King added that if Reid “is not signed to a representative safety contract this spring, every player will know the league’s mantra: Get in line, or this will happen to you when your contract expires—no matter how good you are.”
Critics who doubt Kaepernick’s place in the NFL could point to his declining play the last two seasons he played. His 2016 PFF grade of 61.6 was seventh-worst out of 30 qualifying quarterbacks.
But when measured against the performances of Brock Osweiler, Drew Stanton, Chad Henne and ex-teammate Blaine Gabbert – backup quarterbacks who signed contracts this offseason – Kaepernick is miles better. In fact, none of those signal-callers came within nine points of Kaepernick’s PFF grade in 2017. Yet, all, except Osweiler, will earn at least $2 million this upcoming season for essentially carrying around a clipboard.
Let’s not forget that Osweiler was paid $16 million not to play for the Browns last season, while Kaepernick sat out. This was after signing a four-year, $72 million contract that included $37 million in guaranteed money.
None of them can boast of carrying a team to Super Bowl or possessing the kind of athleticism that is comparable to Kaepernick’s, but apparently, that does not matter.
As Kaepernick’s collusion case heads through the discovery phase, he has sat in on at least half-dozen depositions with league and team officials and his lawyers are scheduled to depose NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this month.
Earlier this year Kaepernick completed his pledge to donate one million dollars to social justice causes, yet he struggles to find employment in the NFL for the second straight offseason.
Kaepernick's former team's currently being criticized for a lax response to distancing themselves from current linebacker Reuben Foster, who was charged with felony domestic violence after reportedly beating his live-in girlfriend.
While the Seahawks reportedly had concerns over Kaepernick’s plans, no concerns were formidable enough to stop the franchise from drafting defensive end Frank Clark in the second round of the 2015 draft, despite the fact he was kicked off his college team for misdemeanor domestic violence and assault.
That same Seahawk team rostered fullback Derrick Coleman in 2015 when he was charged with a hit-and-run after slamming his Dodge Ram into the back of another vehicle, fracturing the collarbone of that driver and fleeing the scene barefoot. He plead guilty and that felony charge was amended to a gross misdemeanor in 2016.
While the Bengals were concerned enough to forego signing Reid over fears that he might protest the anthem, no objection was great enough to prevent the team from drafting running back Joe Mixon in the second-round last year. This occurred despite the fact he was caught on camera punching a woman which caused her to break multiple bones in her face.
Free agent defensive back Adam Jones was arrested three times as a member of the Bengals, two for assault and one for disorderly conduct, between June 2013 and January 2017, according to the USA Today NFL Arrests database.
The New York Giants once signed kicker Josh Brown to a two-year, $4 million deal despite the fact the team knew he was under investigation for domestic abuse. The Cowboys signed Greg Hardy in 2015 despite the fact he was charged with domestic violence. Those charges were later dismissed.
Those cases prove that, if anything, the league remains insensitive to women and issues impacting people of color.
Kraft’s gesture seems small compared to the one made by Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivéwho spoke to a crowd at his team’s stadium after protestors blocked them from entering, ultimately delaying the game. Protestors were demonstrating against last month’s police-involved killing of Stephon Clark.
"We at the Kings recognize your 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.”
SacramentoProud !!!!!!! https://t.co/if2O6q0agG
Compare Ranadivé’s gesture against statements made by Houston Texans owner Robert McNair who once said that "we can't have inmates running the prison” in response to NFL player protests.
In effect, if the league or its teams show any true liberality, it’s toward highly talented players like Clark and Mixon with checkered histories – domestic violence, assaults, drug and gun possession and disorderly conduct.
Sadly, totally believable. As I've said many times, had Colin Kaepernick hit a woman instead of protested against racial injustice, he'd be back in the league already. https://t.co/omtGEuwaiN
Protesting the anthem and speaking out against systems of oppression or institutions aligned with the interests of the league is far more serious and damnable offenses.
They can cost you your livelihood.