John Feinstein of The Washington Post is wondering aloud about NFL owners who are willing to hire criminals—notably DUI offenders and abusers of wives and girlfriends—to play on their football teams. It would be natural to write off these self-aggrandizing tribunes of the “second chance” as hypocrites who are willing to whitewash some patently awful behaviour in order to build the best team possible.
Yet few owners there be, apparently, who subscribe wholeheartedly to the motto of legendary Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis: “Just win, baby.” If they really were focusing on victory at all costs, they wouldn’t be refusing to hire quarterback Colin Kaepernick. So what’s really going on here?
Kaepernick has been famous these days for refusing a year ago to stand for the American national anthem in solidarity with black men gunned down by police officers without cause. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media.
The 2013 Super Bowl quarterback led his woeful San Francisco 49ers as well as he could this past year, and now finds himself without a team—just when a number of teams are looking pretty desperately for quarterbacks.
So why are the 32 white men who own NFL teams not greenlighting the hiring of a quarterback with a proven record of quality performance, whose best years may well be ahead of him?
Taylor Swift, of all people, might show us why.
Swift is countersuing radio host David Mueller who disputes her claim that he groped her posterior during a photo shoot. Twenty-three years old at the time, Swift gamely smiled her way through it, but later complained publicly about the assault. Mueller lost his job, and is now suing for damages.
Lavanya Ramanathan writes that “he is seeking as much as $3 million from Swift, while she is seeking $1, and in court documents said she filed suit only to ‘serv[e] as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.’”
And there’s the clue to the Kaepernick story.
Kaepernick is being blackballed because he took a principled stand against the status quo, and especially on behalf of black people. Those other players are welcomed back into the NFL even though they drove while drunk or mistreated their mates.
Well, whose transgressions would be those most likely to be shared, and thus forgiven, by rich, white CEOs? Kaepernick’s gesture—which hurt exactly no one—is enough to keep him off the team. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift has to punch back against the casual groping she endured the way countless women get insulted like this each day, and particularly, of course, at the hands of powerful men.
Colin Kaepernick reminds us that black lives do matter. Taylor Swift reminds us that women’s bodies, and integrity, and dignity, also matter.
Not every mistake needs to be publicly announced and debated, of course. But every mistake should be acknowledged, repented of, and replaced by proper behaviour. Taylor Swift, however provocative her outfits and however suggestive her songs, is not in fact thereby welcoming any man to touch her anywhere at any time. Nor does she hate men. She simply wants everyone to behave themselves as decent adults, and not subject women to assault on a powerful man’s whim.
Likewise, Colin Kaepernick is not merely dismissing the USA, or football, or police forces. He respects all of those enough to call them to account. He simply wants them to behave decently, and not subject black people to death, or even just unemployment, on a powerful person’s whim.
Too many celebrities set terrible examples. Instead, here’s to Kaepernick and Swift, as unlike as two celebrities can be, for standing together for basic values in a culture that all too evidently seems to need reminding of them.