You've done it again NFL, you've done what you always do. You have the attention of the entire country. What you do with it will determine your future this time and I think I can help tell you why.
For the first time in almost two years, I watched football this past Sunday. I did it to see who had the courage to protest in the face of potential loss of employment. I was not disappointed. In order to explain why all of this is so important, you have to understand why I stopped watching football in the first place.
I am forty-three years old. I've been watching football my whole life. Growing up in Oklahoma, I watched the Cowboys. But, you see, it was more than that. My dad loved the Cowboys as did my older brother. Yelling at the television and hoping Drew Pearson caught that monster pass unleashed by Staubach was a rally point for a fracturing family. I believed in football the same way I believed in professional wrestling. The lights shone bright on the VonErich brothers, but no light shone brighter than the one pointed at the Dallas Cowboys.
Many great life memories surround the NFL. I served in the United States Navy. I was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Shasta, which was based out of Concord, CA. That meant I was a Cowboys fan in San Francisco from 1993 to 1996. One of my best friends was a fellow Cowboys fan from Odessa who married a Niner's fan. Game day was epic. I was a die-hard in enemy territory. Us against the world and we were winning.
One of my favorite memories was the Super Bowl where the Cowboys beat the Steelers. We were in Dubai. I stayed up all night and watched the game live at somewhere around three in the morning. They had spread out a carpet and projected the game feed on to the side of a panel van in the sand just off the pier. I had the early watch the next morning and didn't care. They Boys had beaten the Steelers to claim a championship.
I was in the stadium when Emmitt broke the record. I stayed for the entire post-game program.
All of that changed when the Cowboys hired Terrell Owens. After his antics on the star at midfield and his continued disrespect of the Cowboys, they hired this cancer. Much like professional wrestling, the heel was trying to turn hero. But, this is real life and the heel stayed a heel and I saw that the NFL was really only about money. Just like wrestling. Obviously, the people in control of the game didn't really care about it the way I did. It was just an investment and maybe bragging rights for rich people. That started the turn.
I never bought another piece of merchandise or a ticket after that.
Two seasons ago I watched as Tony Romo, one of my favorite players of all time, was brutalized and returned too early only to be brutalized again. The evidence for the damage done by CTE to the players was mounting and it became more and more difficult for me as a human being with any shred of empathy to support a game that destroyed these men and hypocritically hyped the violence while punishing the players for the very thing they wanted most from them.
It was no fun to watch anymore.
As a veteran and an American, I saw Colin Kaepernick protest. Most of the men and women I served with, even if they disagreed with his actions, would have literally died for his right to take those actions. Yeah, even for a Niner.
I stopped loving this game when it showed me it was only about money. Colin Kaepernick has shown it can be about more. Yeah, they are still rich by all but the most obscene standards, but I don't think most of them do it for the money. Or, at least, they didn't initially. They did it for the love of their teammates, their brothers. This is the same reason soldiers, sailors and airmen die: For their brothers. Not their flag, their people. That is the same reason Colin Kaepernick and the others kneel. For their people.
The support of the owners and executives I saw this weekend was a wonderful start to proving this game means something more than money. But, it's only a start. The NFL can be the force for positive change all the ads and community service announcements show it to be. It can mean something again, but only if you are courageous enough to let it. As a veteran and a former fan, I say take a knee. The Cowboys play tonight.For the first time in a long time, I'll be watching.
We all will be.