This past weekend marked the beginning of the 100th NFL season and the third season in which I have chosen not to watch any games. Back in 2017, when the NFL’s blackballing of Colin Kaepernick began, I wrote an article declaring that I wouldn’t watch any NFL games until Kaepernick was signed to a team again. I’ve learned so much in the years since I’ve made that decision. About activism. About my shortcomings. And about what it’s like to spend time with my family on Sundays.
So here are a few things I’ve discovered and want to share:
Colin Kaepernick Is Never Playing In The NFL Again
I originally decided not to watch the NFL in total solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and Colin Kaepernick only. Sure, I knew that the NFL had done some horrible things (more on that in a second), but this was about Kaep and his right to play football. Did I know at the time I made this decision that the quarterback would still not have a job three years later? No. Would I have taken the position of not watching if I’d have known it would be this long? To be honest…probably not. I was a diehard NFL (most specifically New Orleans Saints) fan and the idea of not watching for three years seemed impossible to me. And if I stick to my original premise to not watch the NFL until Colin Kaepernick plays again, I’ll probably never watch again. But that brings me to this…
This Is Bigger Than Colin Kaepernick
It became pretty clear a few months into Kaep’s ouster from the league that he would never play again – all I had to do was look at all the mediocre to bad quarterbacks who kept getting jobs and second chances in his absence. Ironically, as more quarterbacks kept getting jobs and more time passed, the more the hypocrisies of the NFL shined. I became more disgusted with the excuses – the ideas that Kaep would be a distraction or that the ideas he espoused about equality for Black folks in America were somehow divisive. Kaepernick not only served to bring awareness to larger systemic issues in America but he also unveiled the racism of the NFL itself. In that way, Kaepernick served his purpose: wanting to address the NFL’s larger problems of racist owners and suppressing Black voices, which is more important than simply wanting one player to get a job.
I Don’t Miss The NFL
The first season of not watching the NFL was admittedly tough. I was so used to spending my Sundays locked in on my TV set for eight hours at a time, cheering fanatically for my Saints. However, by the second season, I was fine not watching any NFL games because I just simply wasn’t interested. I didn’t care to watch players put their lives and futures on the line for the enjoyment of a majority-white fan base that didn’t seem to care for their rights and lives when they walk off the field. I didn’t care to watch a sport where Black players get their skulls crushed to line pockets of billionaires who funnel that money to Donald Trump. And I didn’t want to watch f**** Nathan Peterman. Now, I don’t even think twice about Sundays anymore. It’s actually easier to not watch the NFL than we probably realize.
This Isn’t A Boycott
People often refer to my decision not to watch football as a boycott. I don’t. Because to me, a boycott involves some sort of sacrifice. I was raised on stories of the bus boycotts in Montgomery and how Black folks had to hitch rides and walk to work to make it effective. Me choosing to do something else with my Sundays does not make this a “boycott.” I also don’t expect my decision to really bring about any change in the NFL because I’m just one person. I’m doing this because it just aligns with my own personal beliefs. With that said…
We Are All Imperfect In Our Activism
One thing I’ve found to be interesting about telling people about my decision to not watch the NFL is that some people get defensive about it. It’s as if they feel like my decision is challenging their “wokeness” or that I’ll judge them for their continued interest in the league. As a result, I’ll get a lot of justifying that doesn’t quite make much sense: “we knew they were racist so why now?” Or, “will it really make a difference?”
Those questions are really beside the point. And using cognitive dissonance to support something as vile as the NFL won’t get us anywhere. What’s important is understanding where we support things we shouldn’t and simply try to do the most good. I can’t judge someone for watching the NFL because I just stopped eating at Chick-Fil-A a couple of months ago and I’ll still go to Walmart from time to time and still get Amazon Prime boxes delivered to my door and I will still continue to listen to music that calls Black women b***es.
Living lives that are problematic-proof is simply unsustainable for most of us. And that’s okay. The point isn’t justifying those actions as much as trying to do the most good. So what if I don’t watch NFL and you do? I’m in no position to judge because I, too, am imperfect. The best I can do, though, is try to be honest in where we are and try to do the most good.
Also, it’d be hypocritical to assert that people who watch the NFL can’t criticize it or have a meaningful dialogue about its problems. All voices for change are needed and while turning TVs off on Sundays or not buying tickets will have a financial impact on the league that’s irreplaceable, meeting people where they are means accepting their voices when they speak out against the league’s perpetuation of injustice.
The NFL Is An American Institution
Another reason I don’t judge people who watch the NFL is because it’s so pervasive in American culture. It’s a Sunday tradition and people have emotional ties to those traditions that may not be fair to ask them to break. I know one brother who watches because he and his father talk on the phone every Sunday night to talk football and he doesn’t want to break that tradition. I don’t think it’ll ever be possible for a mass movement of Black folks to simply stop watching football unless the product itself just becomes unbearable to watch (the 2021 lockout may impact viewership if the league isn’t careful, by the way).
Even if I don’t watch a single game, I know what happens each week without even trying. Even this week: I know that Antonio Brown has pissed off everyone. I know that the Dolphins stink. I know the Browns disappointed. I’ve been in bars where games have been on. Even last year at Thanksgiving, I had family over who wanted to watch a game, so they did. I was hosting so I watched. I mean, I’m not going to be reading Franz Fanon in the corner just because people are watching football.
Will I Ever Watch The NFL Again?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t have a plan going forward. I don’t really think about it. I just…don’t watch. I know this, though: the NFL has no desire to change. The Jay-Z deal be damned. If I ever choose to watch again, I will knowingly be supporting something that doesn’t care about Black folks and is spending billions of dollars to pretend otherwise. That won’t change. For now, though. I will continue to not watch. I will continue to tell the truth about the league and its white supremacy and cynical pretend activism and the Black people they fool into getting into bed with them.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet.