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It’s not easy for football players to take a political stance.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, it started a media maelstrom that still hasn’t ended. Kaepernick’s initial stance has since opened the door for other players to protest in solidarity with him and his cause, whether by kneeling or supporting teammates who do so.
And yet, going into the season Kap still finds himself without a job, even with multiple teams seemingly lacking at talent under center.
Conversely, NBA players and coaches have been vocal on a number of social issues, especially when compared to their football counterparts. LeBron James has spoken out on gun control in the wake of a mass shooting, and wore a shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” along with teammate Kyrie Irving and several players from the Nets ahead of their game in 2014 after the death of Eric Garner. He also gave a powerful response after his own home was vandalized with racist graffiti.
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have both openly expressed that they would not accept a visit to the Trump White House should the invitation come after their 2017 championship season, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said he’s “glad the NBA doesn’t have a politician litmus test for our players” in the wake of the Kaepernick fallout.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has some ideas as to why football players might be relatively silent on political and social matters. In a profile by Mina Kimes for ESPN The Magazine, Rodgers discussed the risks involved with taking a stance in the league, and expressed envy for the NBA’s culture that allows players to speak more freely.
He also believes that one important factor with regard to player activism has to do with structure, and a core difference between NBA and NFL contracts. As Kimes writes:
I ask him why he thinks the NFL is more restrictive than the NBA, and he points to the structural differences between the sports: specifically, the absence of guaranteed contracts in football. “[In the NFL], if you’re on the street, you’re not getting paid unless you have some sort of bonus that goes into another year. So there’s less incentive to keep a guy, which gives you less job security. Less job security means you’ve got to play the game within the game a little tighter to the vest,” he says. “Part of it has a really great nature to it — being a good teammate, being a professional — the other part is not being a distraction. And I use ‘distraction’ as more of a league term.”
There’s likely no one solution to the problems NFL players face when they choose to take a stance. The league is known for its stringent rules with regard to dress code and expression on the field, and Kaepernick’s current employment status shows that teams in desperate need of talent will forego it if they believe it might come with a social price tag they wish to avoid. But pointing out differences that allow players in other leagues the freedom to express themselves is a good place to start.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers start their 2017 season September 10 against the Seattle Seahawks.