Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid wanted the world to see what the NFL is doing to him. So, he posted the letter that he got from the league office on his locker. The letter ordered him to take a random drug test. Reid doubled down on his punch back at the league with a tweet in which he enclosed the word “random” with quote marks. The quote marks were, to put it mildly, charitable. The drug tests aren’t random. He’s had seven of them since Carolina picked him up at the start of the season. The tests are barely concealed punishment and retaliation by the league against Reid for not backing down in his support of blackballed former San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and taking an unrelenting stand against police abuse and racial injustice.
This is the last thing NFL owners want to see and hear from any player in its league. And make no mistake it’s their league. Some owners and GMs publicly, and many more almost certainly privately, made it clear from the moment that Kap took a knee during the playing of the national anthem, and kept screaming about police abuse, and racism, that he’d get the boot from the league. They also made it clear without uttering a public word to that effect that he’d never play in their league again. Kap’s collusion lawsuit against the NFL for keeping him out sealed the deal that he was a permanent pariah in the NFL.
So, it is pointless to keep throwing up to team owners how many lousy, washed up, third rate quarterbacks’ teams desperate for anyone who could take a snap from center and present some facsimile of what an NFL QB should look like were signed after Kap got the boot. It is even more pointless to keep talking about petitions to get Kap back in the game, or of boycotts of the games until that happened. The NFL long since slammed the book closed on him.
Reid’s treatment is explicitly designed to drive that hard point home. In fact, even before the NFL targeted him with drug test after drug test, he was a target of vengeful owners. He was out of football for months when every team took a pass on signing him despite his youth and all pro credentials. It was only by the luck of dire need, and the willingness of a new maverick owner of Carolina to take the risk with Reid that he got a shot with Carolina. That may not be for long when the season ends. The words of former Titans GM Floyd Reese still ring loud in the ears of NFL owners when it comes to Kaepernick, “You don’t want this circus.”
This applies to Reid as well. The reasons are the same as why Kap is blackballed. It’s their league. There are no real constraints on how they run their operation and who will be a part of that operation be it GMs, coaches, and most importantly, players. The owners have a deep vested interest in profit and gaudy, omnipresent displays of super patriotism. Both come with the NFL ownership turf. The majority of the 32 NFL owners are conservative Republicans who often generously bankroll GOP presidential candidates, and that certainly includes Trump.
So, when Cowboy owner Jerry Jones railed that Cowboy players must stand, presumably at rapt attention, during the playing of the national anthem, it was in keeping with Trump and the NFL’s long-standing, deep rah-rah of the military, the flag, and endless ritual patriotic displays before games.
The owners also keep a close eye on what the fans have to say about the game. On a few occasions, several owners played footsie with the press about considering Kaepernick for a possible spot on their team roster. However, they made it crystal clear that the fans would be in wholesale revolt against their team if they signed him. There was just enough anecdotal stuff from informal polls, surveys, angry letters from fans and hostile talk about Kap from sports radio jocks to cement the owner’s tacit decision to make him NFL unemployable.
To many, this duck for cover by the owners behind the fans, seemed ludicrous. Since when have billionaire owners and their GMs ever considered what the fans wanted in their player personnel decisions? They don’t, but Kap is totally different since there appears to be just enough antipathy and rage against him from a big swatch of the NFL fanbase to make their claim of fan concern credible.
There are still some who finger point the hypocrisy of NFL owners who turn a blind eye to the pack of domestic violence abusers, sexual harassers, and garden variety criminal miscreants on NFL rosters while keeping Kap out. There are others who scream that the NFL owners are grossly violating an individual’s First Amendment right to free expression by keeping Kap out. There are those who shout that NFL owners are retaliating against Reid for his backing of Kap. They are all right. That’s simply the NFL’s way of getting and keep getting its revenge against Kaepernick.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Kaepernick (Amazon) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.