As I travel and speak across the country, I often say that it’s hard to understand a moment in history when you’re in it. 63 years ago, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, I don’t think she had any idea we’d still be talking about it today. She knew what she was doing was right, but it’s hard to know what you’re doing is historic when you are in that moment.
I wanted to take some time this morning to congratulate and brag on the thousands and thousands of you who refused to watch a single NFL game this season.
Last summer, when it became clear that NFL was going to effectively ban Colin Kaepernick from the league, with all 32 teams refusing to even give him a tryout, I announced that I would be boycotting the NFL and hoped that you would join me.
This was no easy request. I love the NFL. And so do many of you. Not only do black folk make up 70% of the players in the NFL, we are among the most consistently devoted fans in the world. It was asking a lot of you to turn off your TV, cancel your league pass, and do something, anything else, other than watch an NFL game. Like you, watching football has been a Sunday ritual in my life for decades.
But I believe the words of Martin Luther King – that “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”
What the NFL did to Colin Kaepernick is a historic injustice. In the prime of his career, when he is as young, healthy, and strong as he’ll ever be, in a season where 20 different teams had quarterbacks go down with injuries, in a season where over 100 different men were hired as quarterbacks in the NFL, he was never even given a chance.
This is wrong. It’s as wrong as it was to ban Muhammad Ali from boxing when he refused to fight in Vietnam. And it’d be different if the NFL banned Colin Kaepernick for committing some type of crime or grave offense, but they banned the man from the league, denying him the right to earn a living doing what he is skilled and prepared to do, because he peacefully protested police brutality in this nation.
And last summer it was my belief that we would all be making a big mistake if we supported a corporation which would deny a qualified man employment because he peacefully stood against injustice.
I wanna tell you right now that I actually think we succeeded in our boycott of the NFL. Let me break it down.
The ratings just came out for the Super Bowl, which was a huge matchup and a great game, but the ratings just came out and it was the least watched Super Bowl in 8 years.
We did that.
The ratings for the NFL season came out this past week and they were down by the biggest single season drop in recent history.
We did that.
And those huge drops in ratings will cost the NFL hundreds of millions of dollars in lost ad revenue.
We did that.
Now here’s the thing – Colin Kaepernick is still not in the NFL – so it may be tempting to look back and say our boycott failed, but I think you’d be wrong in that conclusion.
Can you tell me another time since the Civil Rights Movement that so many of us have come together, sacrificed something we truly love, and boycotted it for an entire year?
It’s hard to gauge just how many African Americans participated in the NFL boycott this year, but I believe the number is around 2 million of us.
By no means am I saying that what we did is bigger than the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but that was 40,000 people. Off the top of my head I don’t if 2 million of us have ever boycotted a company or product together like we did this year.
And I said all of that to say this.
I’m proud of you. I know for a fact that Colin Kaepernick is proud of you.
For too long we’ve allowed people and brands and corporations to take our money without demanding that they treat us with the respect we deserve and I think this year was a tipping point for us where millions of us finally said, you know what, enough is enough.
I will not trade my dignity for some entertainment. I will not trade my self-respect for recreation.
And many of you have asked me if we should continue the boycott, and my answer is yes. We should never support a corporation that has done to a man what the NFL has done to Colin Kaepernick. Because if they can do it to him, and we accept it, they can do it to any of us.
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