NFL

"Kaep, I Owe You! His Protest, My Choice.”

Colin Kaepernick photo by Gerry Melendez for ESPN

Colin Kaepernick photo by Gerry Melendez for ESPN

I was enjoying my morning walk with my dog around the complex where I live, enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee from the Starbucks machine in the clubhouse at my spot. #Blessed. I sat down on a bench by the lake with Big Mack (my dog) and found myself reflecting on the life changing moments and decisions that have shaped my present. Both for the better and the worse. The first decision that stood out immediately was my choice to walk away from the NFL. I can’t really say “boycott” anymore. This started as a facebook post that I just couldn’t dilute down enough. I realized quickly this issue is filled with so much more nuance. I do plan to give a brief but descriptive synopsis of the chain of events that lead to my decision. Most importantly, I want to highlight what “I owe Kaep.” He ultimately changed the trajectory of my life. I didn’t realize how much time I spent idol watching football. How many days/hours/afternoons? When you add College ball to the mix, that’s five days of primetime football.  Let’s not talk about the Beer. I had to capitalize that because it deserves it. The wings though, orders upon orders of flavored delicacies. It’s a lot. A lot of bad, unproductive decisions at once on repeat for 5 months. I ultimately did not “boycott” the NFL, I chose myself. I found so much time, time I filled with things that enriched my life. I spent that time with my family, exploring my interests more. I spent more time outside and at free events and festivals around town with my camera. Having one enjoyable experience after the next that led to nights of research/writing and editing. I found myself home Sunday afternoons preparing for the week, outside grilling Sunday dinner and prepping my meals for the week. Right, one good decision brought on others and I also found more time to work out regularly. It’s Thursday Night Football… ok, How about these squats though? All this is to simply say that I was lead down a path to being more productive, healthier, and happier. That’s a lot to be grateful for, I’m grateful for Kaep!

There’s really no need to further debate the principles of Kaep’s protest nor debate the justification of the outcome. That’s settled. I want to talk about the chain of events of that lead to my revelations. I have to give a little context about the time in which Kaep’s protest took place. This was 2016, we just experienced the 2016 election of Donald Trump amidst the multiple murders of unarmed black men televised and streamed all over social media for our viewing displeasure. We were forced to witness and digest the disdain for black men concerned about their very own treatment and well being. Roger Goodell, the NFL, and its owners effectively silenced the players, all while disregarding the current and future participation of its primary commodity, Black Men. They were unconcerned about the player’s stance or even our viewership. I was confused by two things. First, the willingness of the people directly affected (the players) to be silenced. Secondly, how willing we (black folks) were to move on and continue participation. I witnessed those things play out and had to be reminded of the sentiment of the country every week. I learned how Americans truly felt about those who speak honestly about the injustices affecting them. This played a major role in role in my growing disinterest. It was late into 2016 season when I noticed people began to make peace with their decisions individually and slowly but surely continued with the scheduled programming. By this point it was no longer a protest for me, I wanted to make sure that this was in the right space of my life, as pure entertainment. I chose to take back my time and spend it elsewhere. Just like that the NFL was gone for the rest of the season.

As for mentioned, I spent that time doing things that overall enriched my living experience. I found more time for study, writing, doing more photo shoots that turned into long editing sessions. The 2017 season was approaching and I missed football. More specifically I missed the Jacksonville Jaguars. As a Jacksonville native who was here for the inaugural season. An avid fan since middle school, I’ve had so many experiences specifically in that stadium from high school on. As a Jacksonville native I can personally attest the meaning of the franchise to the city as a whole. If you took away the Jags there’s nothing left downtown except beer, coffee, and church. The owner Shad Khan has been Jacksonville’s saving grace and to mention the leagues only minority owner. I like Khan and I love the Jags. I missed the camaraderie with my city. Black and white, young and old, female or male, and all that jazz in between. We were out there! Tailgating, fellowshipping, and drinking great cold beer. Then it hit me, smacked me right in the face firmly, but yet equally mean-spirited. I missed inclusion. I realized as black men this is one of the few ways we connect with American culture as a whole. It’s our perceived value and social currency. A place where you get to exist in your truest form and be celebrated for your physical prowess. We gravitate towards it, as they do. These institutions and pastimes are the only things that allow you to  feel AMERICAN. I realized this in two very distinct ways. 

First, I realized my familiar circumstantial relationships immediately changed. Pretty much my social relationships with white America. Both male and female, no longer were there social interactions brought together by mutual interest. But just like my relationship with the NFL I was also no longer concerned. I was not concerned with easing the tension others feel by my presence nor felt the need to make conversation.  I was surprisingly cool with that too. That also opened up a larger space for true conversations and relationships cultivated over deeper interests with people of all backgrounds. 

Secondly, over time I saw something that was just a little deeper and troubling, but oh so familiar and understandable. I was forced to examine the relationship with football, shared specifically among with southern black males like myself. It spans both educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Because it starts at youth, as equals, as children. I learned valuable lessons playing football for most of my youth. I learned what maximum effort really meant, I learned how to compete. Specifically, that was the first place where I faced both mental and physical adversity. I was always a big kid and had to play with much larger and older boys. I learned how to overcome my fears and loved working together with my friends to accomplish a goal. To get better and win. I never had to fight to be a part of any team, or lacked access to organized sports.. It’s engrained in our culture and psychi as young males. For all those positives, it also comes with a dark culture and now generational traditions. Sports in general, and football specifically is built for us. We get to exist in a heightened natural state and be praised for it. By the outside world and us (black men) as well. I don’t say these things in contempt at all, I say these things as once being a part of it. Perpetuating the cultural right of passage and identity. Oftentimes when we see a young man, immediately the questions start about who/or what he’s playing? Still naturally we wait for the response. Also recognizing it’s value and purpose at that age. We can’t expect others to see us differently if we can’t imagine alternatives for ourselves as black men. I’ve recently stopped doing it myself. When interacting with kids, I found it easier and more effective to ask better questions. I gained more insight into this young person by finding out what they’re actually into. Not immediately projecting that archetype onto an influential mind. As a former athlete and fan, I have to acknowledge all those hoop dream story brothers we know. All the ones exploited and futures forever altered after years devoted to the game. These are not just athletes. These are our young leaders, the ones with motivation and talents that go far beyond the physical. It’s time that we highlight those things as well. Countless numbers of young men are coached and coddled through the ranks with the promise of one day earning contractual bound riches. So many lives forever changed and dreams differed, all the time being exploited on every level. It’s not just the NFL, it’s the whole system. It’s now commonplace to have celebrity collegiate coaches tenured and making tens of millions a year.  A coach of a game facilitated by, and hosted on a public university! How is that not disturbing?

Graphic from Jemele Hill: It’s Time For Black Athletes To Leave White Colleges For HBCUs. hbcubuzz.com

Graphic from Jemele Hill: It’s Time For Black Athletes To Leave White Colleges For HBCUs. hbcubuzz.com

Lastly, over the years my interest and participation in professional sports continued to dwindle. The natural progression had long-term trickle-down effects. I was just not watching football, I was no longer playing fantasy or interacting with my boys throughout the day on group chats, as we often do. When we gathered in mix company, I found myself playing with the kids, talking with the wives and girlfriends. Just laughing and having a great time. I walked over to my boys every now and then to check in with a laugh. Thank God for basketball, because things naturally take a turn towards familiar as the seasons change. Overall, due to my new fall awareness I noticed some stark differences. Women are out here actively improving and investing in things. They’re out here in meditation circles, working out together, participating in book clubs. I know because I’ve shamelessly tagged along. It started to feel like I was loosing my connection to brothers as a whole. We do so much interacting around football. I know that feeling’s a stretch because I could never separate myself from who I am, or who I represent. Plus I still have Hip – Hop, culture, and pretty much all things cool. I naturally found myself more frequently in the company of creatives, entrepreneurs, serious professionals devoted to whatever their goals may be. Dudes that tend to read books and spend free time in the pursuit of obtaining and sharing information. I could imagine that being a good way to lead one’s life, not watching others obtain their dreams. If you’re satisfied and living in your purpose, by all means you deserve to be entertained.  To get that point in life certainly comes with a proven track record of sacrifice.

GQ’s 2017 Man/Citizen of the Year November 2017 ISSUE

GQ’s 2017 Man/Citizen of the Year November 2017 ISSUE

Overall, I just want to challenge normative behavior that may be counterintuitive, for  brothers to acknowledge positive and negative relationships. To re-evaluate how we choose to spend our time. What or who does it support? It should be you and yours! How much do you have invested? What purpose does it serve? Is it necessity or entertainment for you? Honestly, if at some point someone is worried about the due date of a 200 dollar cable bill every month, this is a word. Said person doesn’t have the time for entertainment! I’m sure there are more fruitful things that can be done with that time, and down the line that time invested will bring about more opportunity and subsequently more money. That is my Hustler’s Prayer!  I want brothers acknowledge there are more things we can do rather than just go to work and then tune out for the sake of entertainment. There’s something you’ve always wanted to do, something that you felt compelled to do in hopes of living a more meaningful life. Whatever that is to you, a new skill, interest, business idea.  I’m hear to tell you that thing you want, exists on the other side of the time being wasted. Remove it, and It’s right there for you. If this does not apply to you then, “no sweat.” That’s the thing, this choice has to be made individually by everyone. My greatest hope, is that it’s a cognizant one. I made my choice; I chose myself, my charge is for brothers to the same. I’m thankful for Colin Kaepernick, for being the catalyst that prompted such a transformative decision.