I’m a hypocrite. Let me explain.
Colin Kaepernick, as we all know, began sitting, then kneeling to draw attention to the way black folks are treating by this country. While many were outraged by his protest, others joined him.
Safety Eric Reid knelt with Kaepernick during the 49ers final preseason game of 2016 while, in Oakland of the same year, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sat while the song played over the speakers. It wasn’t just a football thing, either. In solidarity with Kaepernick, soccer star Megan Rapinoe knelt while the anthem played before the Seattle Reign played the Chicago Red Stars in a 2016 NWSL game, and in response to his protest, Kaepernick’s jersey skyrocketed in popularity.
But that was two years ago.
Since then, the act was co-opted by NFL leadership in response to President Trump’s criticism of the players and league last year, and owners who are, shall we say, less than sympathetic to the cause for which Kaepernick originally knelt, kneeled on the field as a sign of solidarity in the wake of the president’s criticism. Trump called for a boycott of the NFL.
Then, in May, the NFL announced that they would punish teams if players kneeled during the national anthem. Players are no longer required to be on the field while the racially problematic song is played, but they made it clear that “a club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” In response to this, Trump tweeted his pleasure about the league’s policy, but there were calls by many black folks to boycott the NFL. I agree with these calls. I think it makes sense to boycott the league, but, like I said, I’m a hypocrite.
Last year, while friends wrote eloquently about boycotting professional football, I went into hiding every Sunday and Thursday my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers took the field. As I watched the game and paid attention to NFL football lines, I did not tweet; I did not post a Facebook status; I did not text my friends about football. I was ashamed.
I’m a person who believes in principles. I believe in doing the right thing for the right reason. I stopped wearing Tommy Hilfiger back in the day when I learned of the designer’s problematic views of race. I stopped using Uber and opted for Lyft when I learned that a former Uber engineer had reported incidents of sexual harassment at the company but they protected the company. I stopped listening to R. Kelly when I learned that he was allegedly a cult leader. Hell, I stopped the reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that featured the light-skinned Aunt Viv because I don’t like how there are undertones of colorism in why Janet Hubert-Whitten was replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid.
All that to say: I’m down to boycott. I’m a boycotting kinda dude. I’d like to think I would be down to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to say that I would have participated in a sit-in in the 1950s and 1960s. However, I’m coming to terms that I am not who I portray myself to be. Maybe I’m only willing to give up what is easy, but do not have the moral imagination and courage to give up things I love.
Growing up, watching football on Sunday was as essential as church. For a kid who was deeply introverted, socially awkward and growing up without a father, it was a way to bond with other men. I was not able to say, “how do I tie a tie” or “what am I supposed to do when called a jungle bunny in middle school by my white friends,” but I was able to talk about football and feel like my elders saw me and validated my humanity. Giving up football scares me, but, as Damon Young, EIC of Very Smart Brothas, said to me recently, maybe it is time to be courageous — at least when it comes to giving up the NFL.
This year, I don’t fully know what I will do. Maybe I’ll learn to crochet. My son, LJ, is learning how to be a DJ from the great DJ View, so maybe I’ll listen to him make beats and mix music. Perhaps I’ll read and discuss Kiese Laymon’s new book Heavy. Or finally catch up with N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy.
But, the one thing I won’t do is write an article from a position of moral superiority about why I’m not watching the NFL. I wont do that because I’m a hypocrite.
I know I’m not the only one.
You probably are one too.
Lawrence Ware is a philosopher of race at his day job and a curator of dopeness when time allows. Words in The New York Times, Slate Magazine, The Root and others. Email him at email@example.com. He is the kind of Steelers fan that enjoys watching the Cowboys lose.