Luke McCown, David Olsen, Dan Orlovsky, Josh Woodrum. These four are all NFL quarterbacks, and they’re players that NFL ownership and general managers thought to be more enticing signings than Colin Kaepernick. Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last year, it’s well-known why Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned by any NFL team. When one elects their first amendment right to not stand for the National Anthem, it’s going to garner backlash, especially when that person is a multimillion-dollar athlete.
But in the league’s shunning of Kaepernick, the NFL as a whole has proven themselves to be wholly American in nature, for better or worse.
From Muhammad Ali losing five years of his prime for refusing induction into the US Army in 1966 to the backlash that Dr John Carlos and Tommie Smith faced for raised fists during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, an athlete runs the risk of being shunned if they speak out. Banishing athletes from the sport they love in order to make a cautionary tale for other athletes is a practice that is American as tailgating.
A Google search of the terms “blackballed athletes” reveals Colin Kaepernick’s name mentioned often, but he was far from the first athlete left on the outside looking in on his profession due to his political beliefs. There’s the case of Craig Hodges, a two-time NBA champion, who tried to make an impact politically.
The three-time winner of the the NBA three-point shooting contest not only tried to convince Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to boycott a 1991 NBA Finals game in response to the Rodney King beating, but also wrote a letter to then-President George H.W. Bush about the endangerment of the young African American Male.
“We have a sector of our population that is being described as an endangered species, that is the young black man, and the inner cities are in a state of emergency because of the violence we inflict on one another,” Hodges wrote to Bush. “In studying this condition, we must look at low self-esteem, which is often due to lack of jobs and not understanding who we are. This letter is not begging the government for anything, but 300 years of free labor has left the African-American community destroyed. It is time for a comprehensive plan for change. Hopefully this letter will help become a boost in the unification of inner-city youth and these issues will be brought to the forefront of the domestic agenda”
Shortly after writing that letter, Hodges was waived by the Chicago Bulls after the team won its second straight NBA Championship. Bulls officials anonymously told the New York Times that Hodges was on his last legs as a player, and that defensively he couldn’t guard a lamp post. Hodges sued the NBA in 1996 for $40 million dollars, accusing the league of blackballing him because of his association with Louis Farrakhan. Hodges lost the lawsuit, but eventually found himself back in the NBA, coaching with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2005 until 2011.