By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN
It seems that at least some of the 32 billionaire owners of National Football League teams are not too favorably disposed towards social justice issues and that a few appear to be downright hostile. It also seems that a handful at least understand where Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick are coming from.
The dilemma of the latter group was underlined by someone outside the NFL: John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza. “The NFL has hurt us,” Schnatter said, “by not resolving the current debacle to the players’
and owners’ satisfaction. NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”
Schnatter was in fact calling on the NFL to shut down the protests by its players who are refusing to stand when the national anthem is played and he is threatening to pull his TV ads from NFL games. The reason? Not so much “patriotism” as much as the bottom line. Schnatter’s personal net worth fell $70 million in a recent 24-hour period, Forbes magazine reported.
Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys and perhaps the harshest critic of the kneelers, quickly dubbed Schnatter “one of the great Americans.” Jones owns more than 100 Papa John’s franchises.
Then the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website not only hailed Schnatter but also adopted Papa John’s as its official pizza, posting a photo of a slice complete with a Nazi Swastika. In response, the company stated: “We condemn racism in all forms and any and all hate groups that support it. We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”
Which is precisely the problem. How can Schnatter denounce the attempt by Kaepernick and others to bring police brutality and racism to the forefront of American consciousness and yet pretend outrage when they find out the company that position puts them in?
It is a dilemma that must be keeping the NFL owners up late at night — not so much how America’s security is being compromised by football players kneeling when in the picture the National Anthem is being sung as much as the specter of potentially empty stadiums and diminishing viewership and TV advertising revenue. The VICE news site reported that the NFL earned a combined $12 billion in 2015, with merchandise sales bringing in more than $1.55 billion.
The NFL fumbled a sure touchdown on this play by not being decisive and acknowledging with pride that it is a few of its 1,600 or so players, 70 percent of whom are black, that have helped get Americans to focus on a major national issue.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppressed black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained at the very beginning. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.
There are bodies in the street and people are getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The NFL’s answer to this exercise of the right to free expression has been a universal boycott of Kaepernick ever since he first knelt on August 14, 2016. And this is the quarterback who took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012.
In a place such as Miami-Dade County, with a diverse population and a history of police-community confrontation, it was not unreasonable to hope that the hometown NFL team would behave differently. Besides, several non-whites have minority shares in the Dolphins — tennis superstars Serena Williams and Venus Williams, singer Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio Estefan and singer Marc Anthony, according to a 2015 ESPN report – and they would be expected to show they are now just window-dressing.
Indeed, the majority owner, real estate magnate Stephen M. Ross, won praise for supporting players who knelt and specifically defended four of them – Arian Foster, Jelani Jenkins, Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas – who took a knee during the singing of the anthem on Sept. 11, 2016.
But much of the initial goodwill began to dissipate after starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was injured before the start of the season and the Dolphins snubbed Kaepernick in favor of Jay Cutler, a retiree with a broadcasting gig. Head Coach Adam Gase’s explanation? He had worked with Cutler previously and knew what he was getting. Right.
The Dolphins also ordered that players who won’t stand for the anthem must wait in the locker room while it is being sung.
Of course management still supports players’ right to join the Kaepernick protest — just not on the field, where they can be seen.