On Boycotting The NFL

I try to be a good person.

I pay my taxes. I tip 20% at the very least. I vote. I don’t double park or litter. Occasionally, I even recycle.

I could be a better person. For many, the world is a broken place. Holding doors open for people and saying pleases and thank-yous might feel good in the moment, but kindness and courtesy alone don’t make me Gandhi.

While it may be right, it is demanding to ask people to sacrifice their comfort for the common good. People can also try to make an impact without disrupting their daily lives. Conscious consumption offers a way to back beliefs with the weight of our wallets. By spending or a few extra bucks, we can support more humane agricultural practices, better attitudes toward labor, or any number of other worthy causes.

We can also withhold money from organizations we do not support.

The NFL is run by detestable people. They underpay their athletes, reaping massive profits from a game designed to pulverize brains and bodies, then cast them aside. They turn a blind eye to domestic abusers and throw the book at potheads. This alone might keep some from following the sport, but despite myriad controversies, the NFL remains a ratings monster that dominates the national consciousness every Sunday.

When Colin Kaepernick’s protests during the National Anthem threatened to change that, the owners sprung into action. Despite Kaepernick’s obvious usefulness in a league desperate for good quarterback play, he will likely never play another NFL game. Eric Reid, a former Pro Bowler in the prime of his career, has yet to find a job after he followed in Kaep’s footsteps. Both quietly and peacefully voiced their discontent with a country that allows police to escape justice for terrorizing and murdering people of color. Because their protests took place during the NFL’s lip service to the military, people lost their shit.

Viewed most charitably, NFL owners are afraid of losing the portion of their profits that comes from fans who either missed Kaep’s message for his methods or who condone this pattern of violence. Viewed realistically, the owners are just as racist as the fans. Before the season, the NFL ruled that they would fine players who kneeled during the anthem, but would allow protesters to stay in the locker room. Rather than allowing their players to be a voice for change, they pushed the problem out of sight and out of mind in order to placate rabid conservatives. Kaepernick remains unemployed.

I don’t plan to watch an NFL game this year. I cheer for the Lions, so this isn’t a huge sacrifice. When I discussed this with a friend before the season began, he was perplexed. While he, too, sees Kaepernick as a hero, he brought to light several points I had not considered. By doing the same thing as the more publicized MAGA boycotters, was I unintentionally supporting their cause and pushing the NFL to further appease them? Would I be undercutting the platform an NFL career affords players to serve as role models and make differences in their communities? Would the players themselves endorse a fan boycott in solidarity with Kaepernick, or am I just assuming I know what’s best for them? Given the wide range of potential consequences (and the limited effect of removing a single viewer), was I just protesting for my own sense of moral superiority?

Furthermore, to what extent should I avoid the NFL? Is it enough to not watch games? I’m playing fantasy football this season because I recently moved to North Carolina, and it’s a way to stay in contact with old friends. I feel guilty about it; does this render my protest pointless? Should I avoid highlights, unfollow NFL-related Twitter accounts, and just avoid ESPN altogether?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. It feels right to avoid watching the NFL; I can construct answers to justify that decision. Conversely, those who still watch despite Kaep’s blackballing can latch onto any number of the aforementioned concerns to justify continuing to watch. I follow people far more socially conscious, more intimately connected than me to the injustice Colin Kaepernick fights; some boycott, some still watch. But what’s life if not a rudderless jaunt through a fog of moral vagueness?

2 comments

    • I mean, why not boycott college football too? It’s blatantly exploitative at its core. But I enjoy watching it too much to quit. In the end, letting “where do you even start” prevent you from ever trying to start is lazy.

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