NEW ORLEANS — Sports journalism may now involve more than covering sports; it may include reporting on social protests as well. Currently unemployed NFL QB Colin Kaepernick is a recent example.
Kaepernick was the hot topic of several panels at the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention in downtown New Orleans. The scheduled “A Conversation on the Intersection of Sports, Social Justice and Activism” was so well attended that it was moved to a larger room. Even then the August 10 workshop was standing room only, filled with veteran and up-and-coming Black sports journalists, including the MSR.
“It is a huge issue,” declared Fox Sports Sportscaster Gus Johnson, who moderated the nearly two-hour session. The panelists included longtime columnist William Rhoden; ESPN’s “The Undefeated” Senior Vice President and Editor in Chief Kevin Merida; Kelly Nascmento-Delca, a social commentator and producer; Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nzinga Shaw; and NBA legend Charles Barkley.
“He’s getting blackballed,” stressed Barkley on Kaepernick, a free agent still undersigned despite a constant need for quality quarterbacks. Many believe that it is because of the statement he made last season by not standing during the National Anthem before games to protest police shootings of Blacks and other injustices.
Kaepernick’s action, which first occurred during a preseason game, drew national attention and “backlash from White America,” recalled Michael Eaves of ESPN, one of several audience members Johnson called on to offer their thoughts during the session.
“When you do these types of things, you got to know you are going to be punished,” said Rhoden, who also questioned why the NFL players union thus far has been silent on the issue. “I think it’s a labor issue,” he surmised.
But proving the 32 NFL team owners are involved in collusion by not signing Kaepernick is harder to do, warned Barkley. Shaw noted that the NFL, as well as some writers who follow the league, are being disingenuous in explaining why Kaepernick remains unsigned, mainly claiming it has nothing to do with his stance. “I think the league has to be more honest,” he said.
Merida added that all sports journalists, especially Black sports journalists, must do more “rigorous” reporting on this and other pertinent social justice issues. “It’s beyond Kaepernick,” he advised.
At least 70 percent of NFL players are Black, the panelists noted. “What happens if the entire defensive [unit] decides not to play for a quarter? What if one offense or defense takes a quarter off? That will get everybody’s attention” on social issues, said Rhoden, who drew approving applause from the Black journalist gathering for his proposal.
“We always want these guys to have a social voice,” but most of the time it depends on the issue, said Barkley.
Afterwards, Nascmento-Delca told the MSR that oftentimes there’s strength in numbers: she noted the WNBA players, beginning with the Minnesota Lynx, wore protest T-shirts last summer to call attention to police shootings, ironically before Kaepernick’s action. “They all did it together,” noted the daughter of soccer legend Pele.
“I don’t think it will ever happen,” admitted Rhoden on his protest idea. “You can’t fire everybody,” but it would get the NFL owners’ attention.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.