In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Some 60 years later, the NFL has shown that the moral compass guiding it is bending on an arc toward a potential unjust blackballing of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid for protesting against systemic oppression and all forms of police violence.
As first reported by ESPN’s Dan Graziano, free agent safety Reid has filed a collusion grievance against the NFL and retained Mark Geragos, the same attorney representing Kaepernick in his collusion lawsuit, in an effort to secure justice for what they (and many others) view as an unjust banishment from the NFL kingdom, controlled by the league’s owners and its commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Amnesty International recently awarded free agent Kaepernick with its Ambassador of Conscience Award for his protest against racial injustice, his work with youths by way of his Know Your Rights camps, and his pledge to donate $1 million to charities and grassroots organizations that serve oppressed communities across the nation.
Recognizing the significance of Reid kneeling by the side of his former teammate and friend, Amnesty International invited him to Amsterdam to present the award to Kaepernick. Both men received standing ovations before and after their speeches for their efforts.
The NFL, on the other hand, is a different story.
Before formally filing a collusion grievance against the NFL, Reid had visited the Cincinnati Bengals to discuss playing football for their organization. During the visit, team owner Mike Brown brought up Reid’s protest and expressed his displeasure with the demonstration. According to a confidential source, Brown “initiated discussion regarding the issue of kneeling during the anthem. The conversation almost exclusively centered on the topic, with Brown explaining that he intends to prohibit it.”
While many pundits had projected that Reid was available because of a slow safety market in the NFL, time has proved that theory to be invalid, and the meeting between the free agent and the Bengals owner would shed light on what Reid had assumed: that his protesting could be a critical contributor to his absence from an NFL roster.
Later in the week, the Seattle Seahawks planned on inviting Kaepernick for a workout with the team, but that invitation was coincidentally revoked after Kaepernick informed them he was not willing to bend on continuing his protest.
When it comes to Kaepernick and Reid, the NFL seems to be guided by an immoral compass that bends toward punishing protesters who are willing to fight for the human rights of the oppressed, while often practicing patience with players who have oppressively violated the human rights of women.
Franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger echoed the sentiments of many of the NFL owners when he said that he “personally” doesn’t “believe the anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest.” This is, of course, the same Ben Roethlisberger whose immoral compass has left him with two rape accusations.
Of course, Roethlisberger is not alone.
When it was brought to light that former New York Giants kicker Josh Brown “physically, emotionally and verbally” abused his ex-wife (with Brown horrifyingly describing their marriage as him being a “God” and his wife being his “slave”), he received full support from the organization’s coach Ben McAdoo, who said, “We’re not going to turn our back on Josh,” and owner John Mara, whose immoral compass left him comfortable with re-signing Brown to a two-year, $4 million contract.
Both McAdoo and Mara have voiced their displeasure with players taking a knee.
In 2015, linebacker Greg Hardy, who had been found guilty of domestic abuse by a North Carolina judge, was signed by the Dallas Cowboys, whose owner Jerry Jones’ immoral compass led him to describe Hardy as one of the “real leaders” of the team.
I’m honestly not surprised.
In 2009, Jana Weckerly filed a civil suit against Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, alleging that Jones sexually assaulted her. The lawsuit claims that “Jones repeatedly groped Weckerly, forcibly penetrated her vagina with his fingers, and made her watch as he received oral sex from another woman.”
The suit also alleges that Jones and the Cowboys bullied Weckerly into keeping quiet about what happened and coerced her into signing a nondisclosure agreement ensuring her silence.
Jones also mandated that Dallas Cowboys players avoid taking a knee during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” or suffer the consequences of being benched.
The San Francisco 49ers had the honor (some would say) of having both Kaepernick and Reid creating history on their sideline, publicly guiding the perceived moral compass of their franchise, but the organization chose to part ways with the two.
While San Francisco team owner Jed York said, “It’s really, really hard to disagree with [the players]” and that “a lot of people … have been negative toward the anthem protest,” he gleaned his insights from sitting down with Kaepernick and “[hearing] where he was coming from and why he wanted to sit.”
The current 49ers general manager, John Lynch, saw the players kneeling for justice as “divisive,” but I have to wonder if he and the 49ers organization found divisiveness in the fact that according to USA Today’s NFL player arrest database, the 49ers have had 17 players arrested since 2012, which is the most for any NFL team over that time frame. Disturbingly, half of the players arrested were accused of committing some form of violence against women.
The NFL’s immoral compass continues to point the league in the direction of tolerating domestic violence and sexual assaults. It defended a team in the nation’s capital that is named after a racial slur for indigenous Americans. Recently, that same team was also accused by several of the organization’s cheerleaders of making them pose topless for photos and escorting male sponsors, leaving the women feeling as if the team, owned by Daniel Snyder, was “pimping” them out. In addition, several of its owners have donated to Donald Trump, a president mired in sexual-misconduct allegations.
Their immoral compass has led to the potential blackballing of Kaepernick and Reid, whose moral compasses led them to risk sacrificing their careers for the cause of seeking justice for oppressed black and brown people.