History is replete with broad ripples caused by a single act by a single person. Gavrilo Princip, Lee Harvey Oswald, Rosa Parks, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, an unknown man in Tiananmen Square, Thich Quang Duc, John Wilkes Booth, and countless others changed world history. For better or worse.

So did Catherine O’Leary’s cow.

It is the latter far more than the former that comes to mind when I ponder the endless Colin Kaepernick saga. For those living under a rock, Kaepernick was the starting quarterback for San Francisco 49ers who infamously took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at the beginning of a game during the 2016 preseason, (in his words) to protest America’s oppression of minorities. His action was soon emulated by a number of other players, and a controversy was born. President Trump, to no one’s surprise, threw gasoline onto that fire, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kaepernick was benched later that year, ostensibly for lousy performance. Since then, he’s been unemployed, despite many apparent openings and needs in the NFL for either a replacement or backup quarterback. Some have alleged or openly declared that Kaepernick’s continued unemployment is the result of collusion by the owners of the 30 NFL teams, and trot out performance statistics that show him favorably vs many others who were hired, as proof.

The performance arguments about whether he’d have been a better choice for teams with a need miss a core reality. Professional football is a business, not a competition. It is not a playground or pick-up endeavor, where winning games is the only measure of success.

Yes, winning matters, but it matters because winning attracts more fans, which means better attendance and viewership, which means support for higher ticket prices, more concession and merchandise revenue, and more advertising dollars. More dollars don’t simply line the owners’ pockets, they translate into greater opportunity to hire more talented players, coaches and staff, which betters the chances to win. Winning, however, is not the only factor in revenue.

Consider Kaepernick’s case. Yes, it is arguable that, based on his career stats, he’d have been a better choice than many others currently in uniform. It’s also arguable that his performance in the half-season he played during the kneeling controversy exposed a player in decline. But, his non-playing impact on the team and its business-success must also be considered. Would a team’s fan base be happy or angry at his hiring? Would they patronize games, or boycott them? Would they continue to buy merchandise, or spend their money elsewhere? Would they watch the games on TV, or would advertising revenue take a hit?

Moreso, what would be the players’ reactions? Athletes are not automatons. They are human, and motivation is a huge factor in their performance. A “good locker room” is vital to a team’s success, and it’s well known, across many sports, that players who are “good clubhouse guys” are granted extra cachet, while players that are locker-room poison, even if of exceptional talent, are viewed with suspicion. Football is a team sport, after all, and if management feels that a player’s presence will distract or drag down other players, it would be irresponsible to ignore that aspect of hiring him.

Every action taken by a team’s general manager or owner is a business decision, for it is the business that sustains the sport. No one in the NFL works for free, players included. The NFL league minimum in 2017 is $465,000 per year for a rookie. That money has to come from somewhere, and NFL executives should act in a way that maximizes the bottom line (as should any business owner).

While it’s certainly possible to construct a narrative where the NFL, collectively, perceives the damage to the bottom line that the anthem-kneeling trend can inflict, and decides to send a message to the players via a Kaepernick black-ball, it’s far simpler to conclude that Kaepernick is perceived, individually, as a net-negative. Conspiracies of coordinated action are hard to coordinate (see: prisoner’s dilemma) and harder to keep secret (“three can keep a secret if two are dead” — Benjamin Franklin), and Occam’s Razor implores us to pick the simpler answer.

Some applaud Kaepernick’s protest. Others denounce it. His defenders see conspiracies and systemic racism in the NFL, despite 70% of the players being black, and despite 25% of head coaches being black (black men comprise 6% of the US population). His critics call him poison. The NFL itself got stuck between a rock and a hard place on the kneeling controversy, and it would have MUCH preferred that it never happened.

Just like Mrs. O’Leary.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

1+

Like this post?