I think it’s very possible that ultimately, Colin Kaepernick’s legacy may be as the man who destroyed professional sports.
In 2016, when Kaepernick first kneeled for the national anthem, politics was officially introduced into American professional sports.
Sure, there’ve been plenty of intersections between sports and politics in more “unofficial” ways. Many players left sports to join the military in times of war. Obviously, the racial integration of the leagues was a huge milestone. Many players have written things on their shoes or personal playing equipment.
Most of the sports have embraced breast cancer awareness. The military often has some role in nearly every game. Certainly, politicians sometimes attend games (or participate in activities like throwing out the first pitch). And every so often, some prominent athletes may endorse a political candidate or movement.
But I can’t think of a more significant, on-field, in-game moment than Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem. No one has ever done that in a way that stuck and spread across not just their league, but other sports leagues, as well.
Kaepernick is obviously out of the league, but the momentum is already way beyond anyone’s control. Politics has now officially embedded itself in professional sports, and if it isn’t eradicated soon, it’ll be the end of professional sports, as we know them.
Unfortunately, some, including the professional leagues themselves, don’t seem to understand the dynamics of the erosion taking place in front of their eyes. It’s not the message – whatever the message is – that’s turning fans off the game. It’s the politics.
Fans look to sports to escape their day-to-day lives. They want to see exceptional and rare feats of human athletic greatness. They want to be part of a team or organization. They want to get excited and cheer, knowing they’re part of a community that spans the country. Watching sports is a rare time when people with different backgrounds and beliefs unify around their love for the team.
They’re unified because they’re not infected by politics. Sports has always been largely apolitical, making it a safe space for people to come together and unite around the team.
By introducing politics, Kaepernick shattered that key element. By embracing politics, the leagues have all exposed themselves to potentially mass exit.
If enough fans leave, and they continue to leave, the money will cease to be there. This is, of course, accelerated by COVID, because this year, every team in every league is losing millions, or even billions, of dollars.
It won’t be long before teams can no longer pay the millions of dollars the players are used to seeing. If players can’t make that kind of money, there’s going to be a massive realignment in the entire structure of American sports.
Players will no longer make the millions of dollars they’re currently seeing. And don’t think fans will shed a tear at that, either. Demand for tickets could dry up to the point that prices have to go down. Television advertising costs will drop. Cities who depend on the business driven by the home team playing games will also be affected if fans stop attending.
These are all potential domino effects of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee for something that, statistically (read: factually) isn’t really even a common problem.
If he had kneeled in support of the black nuclear family or better public education, perhaps he would have had more support. But even then, people don’t want the politics in their sports.
There’s no way to know how history will see Colin Kaepernick (if they remember him at all), but there’s definitely a realistic roadmap that could lead to him playing a significant role in the sea change in professional sports.
I suspect we will see soon enough.