GELFAND’S WORLD - NFC Conference Championship Game Sunday, January 29, 2023: The 49er offense is reduced to 1930s style play, with essentially no passing game. Quarterback Brock Purdy, with an injured elbow, tells his teammates that he can't throw the ball more than 10 yards. He is correct.
You can write your own jokes. The San Francisco quarterbacking was Purdy Bad, or the whole offense was Purdy Pathetic.
SF came into the game with 2 quarterbacks, one of whom was what the journalists used to refer to as a "journeyman quarterback." Purdy was, himself, the second stringer at the start of the season. When Purdy, suddenly elevated to the status of winning quarterback, lost most of the use of his arm, that was pretty much it for the team.
So the second half wasn't exactly a dramatic finish. It was so bad that an online neighborhood council committee meeting became more interesting. Not even kidding.
But while ambling between the computer and the living room, I started to think about what NFL games would have been like if SF had kept Colin Kaepernick around. Or if some other NFL team had given Kaepernick a chance in any of the years since 2018.
Remember that Kaepernick, in a long line of Black athlete protesters, had initiated the practice of taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem -- this to protest racism and overt discrimination.
It became apparent that as early as 2017, Kaepernick was being quietly blackballed by the NFL owners. Kaepernick was being criticized openly by none other than Donald Trump. Trump resurrected that oldest and ugliest strain of American racism, the one that identifies the struggle for civil rights as being un-American. You know, the old J. Edgar Hoover attack on civil rights leaders as being commies.
But the other point that kept coming to mind wasn't whether a Colin Kaepernick -- now in his 30s -- would have been able to play in Sunday's game. It was something else.
Colin Kaepernick was right to protest back in 2016, and the NFL was wrong to blackball him.
He was right to protest against racism and racial brutality, and against discrimination in general. And as the George Floyd killing showed so dramatically only 3 years later, there is a wholly legitimate protest to be made against continuing brutality by some police, against the murder of Black men by white men in authority, and against the previously all too common coverups of these brutal crimes.
Colin Kaepernick was protesting against all of that, and the NFL lost a chance to support the real American values by not rehiring him.
If you read the history of Kaepernick's protests, one other thing is of interest. The NFL, its owners and coaches, were careful to avoid direct criticism of the idea of civil rights. The NFL Commissioner trimmed his words to defend freedom of expression, as did others. You can read a brief summary here. But it seems to have been careful politics rather than heartfelt ethics.
The fact that Kaepernick couldn't even get a backup job after 2017 is pretty definitive as to discrimination, in spite of all the brave sounding words. This is a guy who took San Francisco to the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter, and a guy who put up impressive passing numbers in subsequent years. It's true that he was hobbled by injuries in some of the future years, but that is true of most NFL quarterbacks. I'll leave it to others to calculate how many quarterbacks took a team to the Super Bowl in the past half century, but it's not that many. Some of the top quarterbacks in the game have done it twice, or maybe three times. Most never seemed to get there at all.
Sunday's games were indicative that we've gone beyond the Trump nonsense and way beyond Hoover's bigotry. Today's NFL teams are integrated. Even the last bastion of discrimination, that of NFL quarterback, is (and has been) multiracial.
But it was not always so. In fact, during the first part of my life, much of college football was totally segregated, and it was similar in the NFL. Local fans may remember how Alabama hosted an integrated USC team in 1972, which allowed for Alabama to finally desegregate its athletics. You wouldn't think so when you look at modern day Southeast Conference Teams, but SEC football was the last bigtime segregated sport in this country.
What the modern day conservatives have yet to realize is this: Just as there was a need to change back in the late-1960s and 1970s, there is still a need to change nowadays. It's clear that bigtime sports have gotten past much of their discriminatory past, but our civilization as a whole (and European soccer fans) have a way to go.
So here's to Colin Kaepernick, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos, and those who will continue their movement in the NFL and the NBA. And it remains interesting to think how Colin Kaepernick might have done had he still been on the 49ers roster.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)