Columns

Coming to Grips with Pro Sports' 'Woke' Capitulation

AP Photo/Todd Kirkland, File

When Colin Kaepernick became the face of a nascent “wokeness” in the NFL ranks and players began kneeling during the national anthem, I pushed back in one of my columns against conservatives’ call to boycott the league. My operative opinion was that I was not going to let a few millionaire malcontents ruin my enjoyment of professional football.  I was adamant that the game was bigger than the then-current crop of disrespectful athletes.

Writing about football, I recalled great games in history. I focused on my hometown teams, the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. It was a good topic, plenty to write about, but I also hoped to persuade conservatives outraged by the kneel-downs to stay the course. To not let these pampered players taint a tried-and-true American cultural institution. I also highlighted exciting games from the then-current season (a walk-off touchdown thrown by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers), hoping to show that despite the inappropriate protests, great things were still happening on the field.

Related: Woke 2.0: NFL to Sing Black National Anthem During 2021 Season

I admit it, I didn’t want to let go.  My push-back predicament worsened in 2019, when the 49ers reached the Super Bowl. The networks with NFL contracts had stopped showing the anthem pre-game; I won’t pretend I didn’t watch every televised Niners game that season.

I took heat for my position, some of the worst comment-heat I’d experienced as an internet writer. I was called terrible names. Out of hundreds of comments, only a handful of those who weighed in echoed my opinion that the game was bigger than a few disgruntled ingrates. Those who didn’t buy my defense of the league were often brutal. That’s okay, that’s how this game is played.

That was then. There was a sense back then that the sideline protests were not a top-down phenomenon. That the braintrusts of the league were merely tolerating the tantrums thrown by Kaepernick and others. That they did not condone the unpatriotic displays, but had factored that it was in the best interest of the league and player relations to avoid a heavy-handed rebuke of the kneelers.

Often in life we must reevaluate our positions based upon evolving facts and revelatory truths. Looking at pro sports now, the NBA, NFL, and MLB, and seeing the way the socialist-cowed top-tier management in the league offices have injected politics into the various leagues, my sense–Mr. Johnny-Come-Lately–is that a tipping pointy has been reached.

It’s no longer only about the players, young men perhaps entitled to their misguided perceptions of the country. It is about the entire apparatus of professional sports. The fun, excitement, and hometown pride attached to rooting for a professional team is being ruined by corporatists who are ramming a guilt trip down the throats of conservative and traditionalist citizens. The move of baseball’s All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver is a perfect example. (Now we’re learning that “football is gay”–not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Pro football was once as all-American as the stars and stripes and the anthem, which honors the flag.  It was a game played by all-American men, like Kenny Stabler, Roger Staubach, Dick Butkus, and Jerry Rice. Whatever their political beliefs, politics seldom entered the arena.  The NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NBA Championship, along with the All-Star Games, were huge deals and provided a sense of community and national identification across party lines. Much of the nation paused to witness the outcomes.

Now the left has scrawled their corrosive message across the face of pro sports. When I saw the slogan “End Racism” stenciled in the end zone of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020, I realized that it is not just about a few players. By inscribing such sloganeering into the messaging playbook, the “woke” powers are reminding me of the intractable culture war that has escalated dramatically with Joe Biden’s capture of the Oval Office. That is not what I’m looking for when I watch a ballgame.

George Floyd’s corpse is now superimposed upon the field of play. BLM’s wanton destruction, so much worse than anything Trump supporters did on January 6, is now part of the show. The influencers in league management seem to be agreeing with the pandering purveyors of race-obsessed divisiveness: America is existentially racist. They would appear to have adopted the foundational tenets of BLM, CRT, and the 1619 project. Millions of citizens must be racist. And, goes the narrative, the number of racists in conservative camps is exponentially higher.

Trump supporters? Forget it.

I pushed back against the rejection of pro sports with sports-legend hagiography, extolling the virtues of a bygone era. When I saw Kaepernick kneel during the anthem, I saw a rogue malcontent, a pathetic outlier on the fringe of a grand sports history. I did not know it then, but the die was cast. Pro sports would not be a bastion against the predations of Democratic Socialism.

I realize that, at least for now, Kaepernick “won.” I also perceive a subliminal message sent by the contemporary signal-senders who run the big leagues.

Many of you, through absolutely no fault—or racism—of your own, are not welcome to the party.