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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

New football season exposes same old hypocrisy about 'free ' speech

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and other San Francisco 49ers stands for the National Anthem during a game in 2016 while Colin Kaepernick, with his hand to his face, and other teammates kneel in protest. Kaepernick does not have a job this season, leading some to suggest the National Football League is guilty of blackballing him — or worse. (AP photo)
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and other San Francisco 49ers stands for the National Anthem during a game in 2016 while Colin Kaepernick, with his hand to his face, and other teammates kneel in protest. Kaepernick does not have a job this season, leading some to suggest the National Football League is guilty of blackballing him — or worse. (AP photo)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Saturday, August 12, 2017 12:01 am

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was having the worst season of his professional career in 2003 when ESPN analyst and conservative talk-show icon Rush Limbaugh McNabb had long been overrated because "the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well . . . there is a little hope invested in (him)."

Limbaugh was widely criticized and accused of bringing "racism to ESPN and the National Football League" by Black Entertainment Television, and soon resigned.

Fourteen years later, the NFL is again being accused of racism and threatened with a boycott by supporters of the out-of-work Colin Kaepernick who don't mind admitting they are very desirous that a black quarterback do well. But will there be a suspension in the future for Fox Sports' Skip Bayless, who has suggested black players refuse to play in the first game of the upcoming season in protest? Or a boycott of the films of Spike Lee, who is supporting a protest at NFL headquarters in New York?

Forget it. The Chicago Bears have a better shot at winning the Super Bowl.

But the Bears are relevant to the unfolding social-justice soap opera swirling around Kaepernick, a once-promising quarterback now better known for kneeling during the National Anthem last season to protest America's mistreatment of minorities. The Miami Dolphins just signed recently retired Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to a multimillion-dollar contract, leading many to suggest the free-agent Kaepernick is being blackballed because of his political beliefs and white team owners' racism.

At least that was the message tweeted out by Kaepernick's girlfriend, who compared the owner of the Baltimore Ravens to a to a slaveholder. Retired quarterback Michael Vick's wife went even further, banning him from the bedroom for daring to suggest Kaepernick's long hair — not his politics or skin color — might be at least partly to blame for his jobless status.

As a long-frustrated Bears fan, I'd probably take Kaepernick over Cutler. But the point here is not athletic talent but whether employers have the right to punish employees for what they say. I could be wrong, but I doubt few of the people defending Kaepernick's right to jeopardize profits by offending customers were equally willing to do so for Limbaugh — or for former baseball player Curt Schilling when ESPN fired him for supporting efforts to ban transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match their gender at birth.

Thanks to injuries, a glut of mediocre-or-worse quarterbacks and the pressure to win at all cost, somebody will sign Kaepernick eventually. For now, though, would his diminished skills justify the possible backlash by fans, especially in a place like Miami? Miami, after all, has a large number of residents who fled the country once led by Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator for whom Kaepernick has indicated admiration. If Kaepernick's supporters bothered to study history, they would have known that in 2012 former Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended after expressing his love for Castro — and Guillen was neither black nor prone to public protest.

There is no language barrier in Kaepernick's case, just a consistency barrier. For every person who support the right of businesses to protect their image or apolitical free speech, countless more seem perfectly willing to silence any voice that dares to deviate from the preferred orthodoxy.

Such hypocrisy is hardly new, of course, but seems more annoying these days. Just ask James Damore, an engineer for Internet giant Google who wrote a memo suggesting women and men have different interests and that the company is not hospitable to conservatives. He was almost immediately fired — in the name of promoting diversity, of course. Schilling's employers made much the same argument last year, insisting he had to go because "ESPN is an inclusive company."

Like I said: annoying. Then again, who really needs consistency when self-exposing irony is so brazenly abundant?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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