COLUMN: Politics and sports do not mix, but they frequently collide

Whether we like it or not, sports and politics often intersect.

One example is that of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is currently a free agent but has been rumored to be signing with the Baltimore Ravens.

Kaepernick is the player who sent a significant number of fans into conniptions last season by choosing to first sit and then kneel during the national anthem before games when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, as a visible protest of what he perceived as unfair treatment of minorities in the wake of several unarmed black men being killed by police, incidents which also sparked the movement known as Black Lives Matter.

For the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick played twelve games and ended the season with 2,241 passing yards, sixteen passing touchdowns, four interceptions and added 468 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

After the season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers thinking that he could parley that season, which he began on the bench, into more money either with the 49ers or someone else, which is fairly common in the football business these days.

What is not so common is Kaepernick’s inability to find a team that wants him. There is little doubt that, were it not for his expressing an extremely controversial opinion, he’d have been signed by someone as soon as his services became available.

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has expressed interest in signing Kaepernick, but has also expressed his hesitancy to do so, for reasons other than football. As reported by CNN on Monday, Bisciotti was asked at a fan forum if he thought that signing Kaepernick would hurt the team’s brand. 

In a long and thoughtful response he replied, in part, that, “I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what is best for our fans.” He went on to say, “Your opinions matter to us. We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it, and we’re still, as (Ravens general manager) Ozzie (Newsome) says, scrimmaging it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tact. So pray for us.”

That so much consideration has to go into the decision by the team owner on signing a player is sad. NFL quarterbacks are the rarest of talents, and Kaepernick has demonstrated beyond question his value to any team in the league, either as a bona fide starter or as a dramatic upgrade at backup.

The sad fact is that there is a loud and large section of fans who would insist that the world indulges their political opinions to the point that they would not support someone who disagrees with them playing for their favorite football team.

That people would rather see a bad quarterback who shared their politics than a good one who did not is a pathetic indictment of those people’s priorities. They are fans, not of football, not of their favorite team, but of the sound of their own voice. They are simply addicted to their own outrage, and do the game, their team or this country as a whole no favors.

The fact that Kaepernick is being professionally ostracized for expressing his opinions shows just how little we should take seriously the claim that this country values freedom. The so-called patriots in this country who claim some devotion to the freedoms outlined in the Constitution far outnumber those who actually do, and there is no better example of this that the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick.

The fundamental question is this: Do you value freedom of expression in America, or just your own? One of those choices is the position of the true patriot.

The other is not.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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