An unfortunate, but predictable, consequence of Marshawn Lynch‘s decision to engage in a Saturday night anthem protest is that many have pointed to Lynch’s ongoing employment as proof that this kind of behavior won’t get a guy “blackballed” by the NFL. The term “blackball” (along with “collusion”) has never made much sense when applied to Kaepernick.
The term “blackball” simply doesn’t fit. The “blackball” process allows only one member of a group to apply the kibosh — typically through a secret vote that consists of everyone drop a white ball or a black ball into the hopper. And it takes only one black ball to block a move.
The blackball process is a form of collusion, but collusion is usually more collaborative and strategic. As it relates to Kaepernick, collusion has seemed like a stretch because the owners don’t need to collude to know that a guy who fails to stand for the anthem is potentially bad for business, unless he’s really, really good at football.
Lynch proves this point. The fringe (for now) Hall of Famer won’t be cut or shunned or colluded against or blackballed because he’s really, really good at football. For a guy who isn’t clearly one of the best players in the game, participating in anthem protests is an issue. A “distraction.”
The fact that it took more than four months to get to the point that an NFL team would publicly acknowledge that Kaepernick’s unemployment may arise from concerns other than football shows that the teams realize it may not be appropriate to consider a guy exercising Constitutional rights in a way that violates neither the law nor NFL rules as a “distraction,” when countless players have gotten umpteen chances despite doing things that actually violate the rights of others.
The term “distraction,” it seems, has become code for “I don’t want this guy on my team.” For the Ravens, the potential “distraction” became even more of a “distraction” because they made it into one, awkwardly welcoming all opinions from fans and sponsors instead of making a decision based on what the team needs in order to be best positioned to win football games.
Lynch will suffer no employment consequence because he serves multiple purposes in Oakland, from making the team better to giving the locals a bright shiny object that will distract them from the reality that the Raiders are about to cram a large pointy object into a place where the sun doesn’t shine on any city. The Raiders have at all times needed Marshawn Lynch more than Marshawn Lynch needs the Raiders, so guys like coach Jack Del Rio will have to grit their teeth and deal with Lynch, even if he’s doing something Del Rio personally doesn’t like.
No one has to deal with Kaepernick because, while good enough to start, he’s no longer regarded as a star. At some point, he could become a necessity for a team with an offense that suits his style. If, for example, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson suffers a serious injury, Kaepernick likely will get a phone call.
For teams that run other systems, if/when a starter is injured we’ll hear “next man up” and “Kaepernick doesn’t know the offense” and underpinning it all will be the clumsy balance between talent and “distraction” which shouldn’t even apply here because Kaepernick shouldn’t be regarded as a “distraction” — especially since he will be standing for the anthem in 2017.
That’s why the words of Richard Sherman continue to resonate. This issue isn’t about race or football or protests or the flag. It’s about co-opting the platform owned and operated by the NFL and sparking a movement. Kaepernick’s inability to find work represents a clear message to all current and future players that they should think twice before ever stepping out of line and leading others to follow.
Especially if those don’t have the talent to trump the “distraction.”
So forget the fancy-sounding words. Kaepernick isn’t getting “blackballed,” and he isn’t the victim of “collusion.” But he clearly has gotten screwed.