Over the last few days, two starting quarterbacks in the NFL suffered serious injuries, leaving one out for the season and the other inactive for at least the first half of the year. While most people have been expressing sympathy for Teddy Bridgewater and wishing him a speedy recovery from his ACL tear, the same can’t be said for Tony Romo, the butt of countless jokes since his most recent back injury. I’m not here to rant against those making fun of Romo and other injury victims- I’ve done that before. However, I think it’s important we recognize that many of our actions to events in the sports world contradict each other and raise interesting questions about how we treat athletes.
Colin Kaepernick’s decision to remain seated during the National Anthem has ignited furious debate, with the majority of people seeming to condemn the 49ers quarterback’s actions, which he described as a protest against the oppression of people of color in the country. I believe this story has received far more attention than it deserves. While many (including myself) may disagree with the method Kaepernick chose to establish his beliefs, he has every right to use the National Anthem to attract attention to a cause which is obviously very important to him. Those objecting to Kaepernick because he has enjoyed success in life and has not necessarily faced the oppression of which he speaks are ridiculous. You don’t need to have experienced something to speak out against it! Many people are activists of a variety of issues including hunger, sexual assault, and infectious diseases without having been directly afflicted themselves. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t a slave, but he supported what he believed to be right.
Kaepernick is far from the first athlete to make a political protest. Many forget that Muhammad Ali was once one of the most hated men in America for his strong support of the Civil Rights Movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali has since become one of the most beloved athletes for his relentless attitude and outspoken nature. Far more recently, during this Summer’s Rio Olympics, Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lelisa protested against his country’s government while accepting his silver medal, and was widely celebrated for his courage. While the American flag is a great source of pride for most Americans, we have to respect Kaepernick’s decisions just as we have come to do for Ali and Lelisa.
Money is often a controversial topic in sports, as seen in San Diego Chargers rookie Joey Bosa’s rookie contract holdout, which lasted well into the preseason. During the holdout, Bosa’s failed negotiations with the Chargers centered around how much of his signing bonus he would receive up front and the presence of offset language in the deal. Supporters of Bosa often cited how sports are a business, meaning Bosa is doing the right thing in trying to protect himself and make as much money as possible. While this is a legitimate position, I can’t help but think of Kobe Bryant, who was called selfish for making such a large salary in his final seasons, a move which can be defended by the same logic.
Ultimately, I believe our prior beliefs about players have a huge role in how we react to their actions on and off the field. For evidence of this, look no further than the Deflate-gate scandal, which drew countless hot takes and opinions from fans on both sides. Patriots fans had tremendous incentive to support Tom Brady, their beloved franchise quarterback who has led them to four Super Bowls, and thus strongly defended Brady against cheating accusations, no matter how obvious his wrongdoing seemed at times. On the other side, fans of most other teams hate the Patriots, and mocked Brady while rooting for harsh punishments.
Especially in situations that either involve our own teams or could have significant effects on our teams, it’s almost impossible to see things objectively. Additionally, there are some players we just want to hate. Fans whose college teams were torched by controversial quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, and Jameis Winston are far more likely to root for these players to lose and become harsher critics of their every move in the NFL. While this may be better suited for its own article, I think we also need to really ask ourselves how much we want to know, and deserve to know, about athletes’ lives off the field. The sports industry craves athletes with big personalities, but then puts these players under the spotlight, willing to pounce on anything they might do wrong, even things that aren’t illegal.
Most controversies and arguments have multiple sides that can be sensibly defended, which is why people are so often passionately defending their views. However, I think we should work on taking our stances from a more objective perspective, generally not adopting contrasting opinions depending on the player, although it may be acceptable in certain circumstances. Feel free to argue on topics you feel strongly about, as long as you can explain the rationale for your beliefs.