"America’s romantic relationship with football is both well-chronicled and widely respected.
Football Sunday bears much of the same tribalism and devotion one finds in church, in large part because football has evolved into a sort of American religion in its own right; it, too, boasts tenets, swaths of fanatic disciples, an unspoken code of ethics and an emphasis on personal sacrifice. And, onto the sport, we project all of our aphorisms about America: our interpretations of toughness, manhood and power.
When Colin Kaepernick began his silent protest against racist policing in August 2016, his sin was interrupting our dreamy exercise in national aggrandizement. His actions were an affront to the thoughtless fandom and nationalism that had characterized football games prior. And many apathetic to the cause of black life took exception to being reminded of their complicity in oppression, particularly at an event they’d been assured would speak to the supremacy of their country and its values.
Football is hypnotic in this way.
Its intimate violence lends to simple metaphors concerning battle, heroism, and the strength of our nation.
Consider, for example, that with each play, every athlete lays claim to the patch of grass before them, and all in their way as they fight to secure it are to be vanquished. They nobly clash bodies continually with the intent of determining a victor.
In many ways, this is a vital American notion: that we all stand to enjoy the spoils of success, but we must first give in wholly to our hunger for supremacy at all costs. It is a deeply capitalistic idea and one that, although contextualized in football, fits neatly with our interpretations of America as a meritocracy in which the best man prevails.
But Kaepernick’s free agency, and the acrimony levied against him as he awaits an offer, contradicts this and reifies a truth almost too embarrassingly obvious to note: The National Football League is neither moral nor meritocratic. And while the sport itself relies heavily upon the perceived nobility of even-footed battle and the value of skill over all else, the federation sanctioning the sport operates with a different compass. (Cont)