By Jack Golub
The NFL made two big splashes in the news in the past week. The first: settling with Colin Kaepernick over his collusion case. Kaepernick, after a career-derailing struggle, triumphed victoriously over the corporate monolith. Or, alternatively, Kap capitulated and let the rich owners buy him out. One such owner made the second splash: Pats owner Robert Kraft got implicated in an FBI prostitution and human trafficking sting. Kraft, one of the most influential owners in the league, paid for sex. Among the hierarchy of the NFL’s concerns — CTE and death, domestic violence, systemic racism — prostitution seems to be low down on the list. But maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe, like the settlement with Kap, it is an example of the NFL’s ability to throw money at questions of slavery to scare them away.
Colin Kaepernick, like Kyrie said last week, doesn’t owe shit to anyone. He deserves our praise and admiration for standing (kneeling) for what he believes in. When he first sat on the bench, and then later switched to kneeling, during the national anthem, he was acting according to his personal beliefs. He saw the racist police brutality that was gunning down young Black men and felt that he could not honor a country who permitted such injustice. He didn’t plan it to start a national campaign. So, it’s his prerogative to settle when he pleases.
Bomani Jones, in an article for The Undefeated, points out that Kaepernick has been held up as our generation’s Muhammad Ali despite taking (what should be) far less controversial of a stance. Ali broke the law by refusing to fight after getting drafted. Regardless of your thoughts on the morality of his decision, he acted in defiance of official government policy. Kaepernick, on the other hand, chose to kneel while listening to a song. There is no constitutionally enshrined protection for standing for the national anthem. There is, however, a right to freedom of speech. Kaepernick did what he was supposed to do; it was his opposition that elevated his act from speaking his mind to staking a bold challenge of the state of affairs of our country.
I wish Kaepernick would’ve stuck out his lawsuit longer, so that he could dirty the NFL’s “shield” as much as possible. As I wrote in a previous article, there are some elements of NFL playership that characterize racial oppression. (No, I’m not saying NFL players are slaves. But there’s a reason it keeps coming up that white owners have a “slaveholder mentality” or that teams don’t give players freedom, and the reason isn’t that all Black players are divas.) Although he was protesting the country at large, Kap gave attention to a side struggle – that of the players. Continuing the lawsuit could have furthered that cause. It would’ve been nice for him to make that sacrifice. But it’s fine that he didn’t.
He doesn’t owe it to anyone to martyr himself. He’s lost so much money in potential earnings from salary and sponsors that he probably does need some financial support. Even if he doesn’t, he never asked to stop getting paid. He wanted to keep playing. The Trump and uber-conservative opposition elevated him to Social Justice Warrior polemarch so that they could use his perceived slight towards the military and the country as justification for racial injustice. Once they did that, Kap was done. He was thrust into this role of civil rights negotiator and socio-political bellwether upon which the media and masses projected their judgments of America. The fact that he was able to exit still making a lot of money (between $60-80 million, according to rumors, between him and Eric Reid) is remarkable. It also means that, while the NFL lost, it was able to pay to protect its image.
One man that did a lot of paying and not a lot of image-protecting is Kraft. Already known for his deflated balls, Kraft reaffirmed the general hatred he and his team receive with this scandal. While prostitution at face value doesn’t seem to be so extreme a topic as racial injustice, the case is not obvious. The FBI was investigating Kraft’s favorite vacation spot because of its suspected status as a human trafficking hub. Human trafficking, of course, is slavery. It is a hundred-billion dollar enterprise, including nearly one million trafficked internationally per year (there is not a lot of precise data because it’s so hard to track). When the full picture is painted, we may learn that Kraft was sponsoring slavery to satisfy his sexual desires. Disgusting. Now, it’s not too hard to see where Kraft gets the idea that he can pay for the unfair treatment of other human beings. The NFL, in its own special way, treats its players like prostitutes.
How will the NFL respond to Kraft’s implication? It probably will fine him a lot of money. Given that Kraft has been paying fines for years, I doubt he’ll mind that much. By extracting money from Kraft, the NFL will show that it takes the inherent dignity of human beings seriously. What will it do with that money? Pocket it, or perhaps save it to pay off the next Kaepernick.
Contact Jack Golub at golubj ‘at’ stanford.edu.