When it comes to entertainers, there’s a common expression: “Shut up and sing.” The meaning, of course, is if we want a political diatribe we’ll flip to Chris Matthews or Rush Limbaugh. What we want from performers is to show us your stuff in the arena for which your talents are well-known. You write gripping homages to life in the grittier parts of the Jersey Shore? Cool. Sing Rosalita. You’re a gifted actor? Wonderful, dazzle us with your perfectly nuanced Sophie Zawitowski. You write best-sellers? Great. Tell us all about Hogwarts.
And … if you play football and are the seventeenth-best quarterback in the NFL, as Gerald Griggs of the Atlanta NAACP reminded Tucker Carlson last week seven times in a five-minute segment, then excel for us on the gridiron.
Now, I’m not so sure I fall totally in line with this court jester view of our contemporary artists and sportsman. They’re human beings — sometimes thoughtful, if often misguided — who have every right to think about the world and express their views accordingly, no doubt aware of their unusually visible podium from which to project their opinions. But putting yourself out there beyond the realm of why you’re famous in the first place comes with risks. To force throngs of strangers to endure your political point of view, but then deny them the right to react as they see fit should they find them objectionable, is misguided and arrogant.
Those who support Colin Kaepernick and insist that, simply by virtue of talent alone, he must be given work in the NFL fail to understand the nature of the beast. The NFL is not a sports business per se. It’s an entertainment business, whose brand of entertainment is pro football. It’s a model that relies on viewership and attendance to generate advertising and merchandising dollars and result in marketing/licensing deals. Without fans, it has no business. Thus the owners search out and hire top athletes so satisfied customers will consume their product.
In other words, the athletes are a simply a means to an end.
No matter how good a player, if you’re more of a repellent than attractant to the league’s customer base, you become a liability. Your talents are negated. There is no God-given right to play professional sports just because you’re very good at it. When you suit up you become part of a business concern, and your job is ultimately to display your talents on the field to prompt people to tune in … not tune out as Kaepernick has done. The NAACP fails to understand this. Or maybe they do, but the corporate charter of Shake-Downs “R” US (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Grievance, Inc.) requires they take up the cause. They, too, have a franchise to protect.
Maybe the NAACP should consider this analogy: Imagine you’re running an auto-repair shop. You employ one particular mechanic who’s gifted with engines. But he also routinely insults your customers. Suddenly you notice your business is sagging and your patrons tell you point blank that, yes your man did a great job on their transmissions, but the guy’s constant bitching about being mistreated — even as he makes more money in one year than most of your clientele will earn in a lifetime of hard work — is just so obnoxious and off-putting that they won’t come to the shop anymore. So, what do you do? Does this mechanic have a civil right to work for you simply because he’s very good with engines?
Personally, I don’t care about Colin Kaepernick’s politics one way or the other. I have my opinions, of course, but to me this story isn’t really about melanin count so much as business. I will say if some are trying to raise awareness of racial injustice, I think a more sympathetic poster-child for oppression courtesy of The Man might be in order. Kaepernick is 29, has no Super Bowl rings, and yet was paid $19 million per year by the Forty-Niners — which is a member of a league whose players are 70% African-American. Yet NAACP activists are now accusing the NFL of racism because that same quarterback took their traditionally apolitical and escapist product and tried to turn it into the 1968 Olympic Games. As Meryl Streep so smugly reminded us a while back, people who watch pro football usually tend to lean to the right of Che Guevara. And even if they don’t, they tune in to be entertained, to forget their troubles for a while, not lectured to by a twenty-something who’s been so oppressed he has enough money to change the weather.
When confronted with Kaepernick’s swollen bankbook, Mr. Griggs shifted the topic to the broader issue of lack of Black ownership in the NFL as evidence of the league’s inherent racism. But is it really conscious bigotry at work here or does it have more to do with indifferent economics and the reality of the cost of owning a professional sports franchise in 2017? My guess is green is the only color one needs to get a seat at the table — one whose lofty entrance fees is the exclusive domain of the uber-rich these days. Scan the latest Forbes 400 and tell me how many African-Americans you find. Therein lies part of the answer.
One can reasonably expect that as top athletes today are paid far more than their predecessors, some more than most CEOs, owners of color — familiar and respected members of the firm who paid their dues on the field — will emerge as they cobble together the ungodly sums to buy into such billion-dollar enterprises. Still, if the NAACP is impatient to see proportionate racial representation in the NFL now, then perhaps they would be open to whittling down the player rosters to be in-line with the nation’s 13% African-American population to properly reflect demographics, in return for four black owners among 32 teams? Food for thought, but I digress.
What Kaepernick supporters need to get their heads around is the NFL is a company. If a member of its staff fails to draw in patrons and instead turns them away — in short, fails to do the job he’s been hired to do — then that organization’s owners have every right to say, yes, you throw a wicked spiral, but a cost/benefit analysis leads us to conclude that your services are no longer required. The Bill of Rights codifies many rights. But the right to play professional football and earn tens of millions in the process is not one of them. As far as Colin Kaepernick’s continued unemployment goes, this is not a civil rights matter at all. It’s a business decision.
Ah, don’t worry, football fans. I think the game will survive, even without the contributions of a malcontent seventeenth-best quarterback in the league, already on the down-slope of his career.