1000 Words: Unforgivable

Big Mike’s Note: This might appear, at first glance, to be a sports story. It’s much more than that.

The two most villainous players to don National Football League uniforms this century have both been black men.

The two men are quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick. In 2007, the latter pleaded guilty in criminal court of hosting a dog fighting ring on his property. He spent 21 months in federal prison, missing two years in the prime of his career. After his release, he signed on with the Philadelphia Eagles, won Comeback Player of the Year and was named to the Pro Bowl. He continued throwing passes and rushing for yardage until his career ended after the 2015 season. It’s a safe bet many football fans today don’t even remember that he’s a convicted felon and helped run a brutal, cruel enterprise.

The former has not played football since 2016. A scant three years before that he’d led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. He was a competent passer and might have expected to have a long career extending ten more years. Many quarterbacks like him have played until they were 39 or 40. Kaepernick last threw an NFL pass when he was 29 years old.

Problem was, he’d committed an unforgivable sin.

Kaepernick’s crime was far more horrifying than Michael Vicks’s, at least in the eyes of the NFL’s decision makers. See, he’d had the evil within him to kneel while the national anthem was played before his team’s games during the 2016 season. He’d hoped to bring attention to the rash of police shootings of unarmed black men and to raise awareness of police brutality and of racial injustice and oppression in the United States.

To make matters worse, Kaepernick sported a magnificent Afro, surely dredging up memories within the rich, old white men who run the NFL of dangerous, uncontrollable black men from the 1960s and ’70s. Think of the Black Panthers in 1967 or an angry Bobby Seale, bound and gagged during the 1970 Chicago Eight trial.

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Towering, in-your-face Afros for more than 50 years have been symbols of pride for Black people and of terror for most whites.

By the way, that rash of police officers killing unarmed black men has continued unabated to this day. And systemic, institutionalized racism and oppression similarly have continued uninterrupted.

Vick and Kaepernick have not been the only NFL players to be suspended or otherwise disciplined by the league for their criminal or anti-social actions. Since the turn of this century, the number of pro football players who’ve been caught on camera, accused of, charged with, and/or convicted of battering women is astounding. The number of NFL players who’ve been found to grab, squeeze, fondle or otherwise sexually assault women is equally astounding.

Many of the players found to commit these acts were welcomed back with open arms after they’d served grudging punishments.

In fact, one fellow, quarterback Deshaun Watson, in the last two years has been sued by some two dozen women for sexual harassment and sexual assault. He has agreed to financial settlements in 20 of those cases. Nevertheless, This past offseason, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns and signed to a five-year contract for $230 million, one of the most lucrative deals in NFL history.

As soon as Watson completes an 11-game suspension and pays a $5 million fine, he will be free to return to the playing field. Meanwhile, fans in Cleveland eagerly await his first game in the team’s uniform. A number of fans, before and during Browns games this season, have worn shirts, displayed placards, and even set up displays of mannequins with erections in support of Watson.

It’s a good bet he’ll play in the NFL until he’s nearly 40 years old.

This year, Colin Kaepernick is 34 years old, meaning he might have had another six years to ply his trade as a quarterback, had he not committed his unforgivable sin.

Quarterback Brett Favre played in the NFL until he was 41 years old. During his last year in the NFL, Favre was accused of sending sexually suggestive texts and photos of his genitals to a female employee of one of the teams he played for. The NFL investigated the charges and Favre not only refused to cooperate in certain aspects of it but actually lied to investigators. The league fined him $50,000 for lying but claimed to find no evidence that he’d engaged in inappropriate workplace behavior.

I can’t imagine too many football fans remembering that stretch of Favre’s career.

In any case, Favre was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now an elder statesman of the game, Favre finds himself in hot water. In 2020, the FBI began investigating a series of misallocations of federal funds intended to benefit the poor in Favre’s home state of Mississippi. The state’s former governor, Phil Bryant, has been implicated in the scandal. As has Brett Favre. Thus far, investigators have uncovered millions of dollars in payouts to Favre for speaking engagements he didn’t show up at, financing for a business he’d invested in, and the building of a gymnasium for a school Favre’s daughter attended, all from those federal welfare funds, and none of which, allegedly, were legal.

The state has sued Favre for his part in orchestrating this scam. One piece of evidence turned up by investigators was a text message sent by Favre to his friend, the former governor. It read: “If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” (sic)

The scandal has received a fraction of the attention Kaepernick’s did in 2016. Favre continues to enjoy his status as an elder statesman of the game.

Favre (L) and Donald Trump, whom he endorsed for President in 2020.

Here’s what we now know: The crimes and misdemeanors of watching dogs kill each other for sport, for physically abusing women, for sexually molesting women, for sending unwelcome sexually suggestive texts to co-workers, and for stealing money from the poor to pay for vanity projects and personal investments are all excusable.

Kneeling during the national anthem is not.

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