Our view: The Ravens and other NFL teams consider the QB’s social activism a liability, but in the Trump era, it’s an asset
While Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti may have gone a little over the top with his request that Ravens fans “pray for us” as team officials decide whether to sign former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, we aren’t surprised at their cold calculations on the matter.
For all the talk about pro football reflecting something grander than grown men knocking each other senseless for our entertainment, it’s not really about character or family or principle or patriotism. It’s a business, and the decision of whether to sign a quarterback whose political activism in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality offended many fans is, unsurprisingly, a cost-benefit calculation. Does he have the potential to add more value to the team by winning games (in case Joe Flacco’s back injury turns out to be more serious than expected) than he does to detract value by turning some fans off? His decision to sit (and later to kneel) during the national anthem last year may have turned him into an undervalued asset — most other teams haven’t so much as given him the time of day — but the reaction among fans, particularly on social media, suggests a signing could come at a price.
It’s exactly the same sort of calculation the Ravens made after former running back Ray Rice’s arrest on domestic violence charges in Atlantic City — the team was behind him 100 percent until a video of the assault emerged and no one could any longer ignore what it means when a professional athlete knocks a woman unconscious.
What is disappointing about this situation is Mr. Kaepernick’s quiet assurance to the Ravens and any other teams who might be in the market for his services that he would stand for the anthem this year. Whether the Ravens need his arm, we’re in no position to say. But Baltimore — and America in general — could certainly use his voice.
Some have accused Mr. Kaepernick of being ungrateful to a nation in which he has achieved tremendous success, monetary and otherwise. Some claimed his protests against police brutality were a publicity stunt. But what cannot be said is that they were flippant, capricious or reflecting of a shallow understanding of the facts. Sadly, the same is clearly not true of President Donald Trump’s remarks on the same topic.
In a speech to law enforcement officers in Long Island on Friday, Mr. Trump casually endorsed police brutality in language that echoed the circumstances of Freddie Gray’s killing in Baltimore two years ago. “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they've just killed somebody — don't hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”
To president Trump, that’s a joke. He got laughs and applause from the crowd. Responsible police chiefs across the nation have subsequently explained why what he said wasn’t funny, and at a time when the Department of Justice is walking away from its efforts at reform and instead seeking to reinstitute the kind of zero-tolerance policies that led to systemic civil rights violations in Baltimore and elsewhere, it certainly isn’t.
Mr. Kaepernick’s defenders have gone to great lengths recently to argue that he would be an asset to an NFL team by emphasizing his skill on the field, his dedication to training, his positive effect on locker room culture and even his ability to build muscle on a vegan diet. We doubt the Ravens or any other NFL team will look at it this way, but his social activism also makes him an asset to the community. Mr. Kaepernick does a lot more than kneel before games; among other things, he has also hosted a series of “Know Your Rights” camps teaching young people of color about financial literacy, health, college admissions — and the history of police brutality.
Pro sports teams like their athletes to be involved in the community in benign ways that are unlikely to offend. But at a time when the president of the United States treats cops roughing up the people they arrest as a laugh line, Mr. Kaepernick is saying something we need to hear.
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