The Manhattan crowd began to gather and grow outside the NFL’s headquarters on Park Avenue late Wednesday afternoon. Some carried handmade signs, like the one that read “Standing 4 Kaepernick Boycott NFL,” or another that asked a question: “Should speaking out against injustice cost you your job?”
The cars and trucks drove by as speakers took their turns in front of about 700 people, according to an estimate by one NYPD officer. They talked about Colin Kaepernick’s plight. No team has signed the 29-year-old quarterback at this late date. In one sense, this was a protest over a protester being denied work.
But the people speaking at this “United We Stand” rally for Kaepernick also made it clear that this was about more than just his plight. There was also talk about police violence and inequity for people of color, the causes that caused Kaepernick to take a stand last season by declining to stand for the national anthem.
Kaepernick opted out of his contract with San Francisco in March, but the 49ers were going to release him anyway. There were accusations at the rally that he’s now being blackballed by the NFL.
“The NFL is complicit in the ostracization of Colin Kaepernick and the current climate of the National Football League by not saying anything,” Symone Sanders, a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, told the gathering.
United We Stand, a coalition of civil rights and faith-based organizations as well as civic-minded people, sent an email Tuesday to ask for a meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell. Sanders, who served as a representative after the rally, said the NFL was willing to have a group meeting that included others who wanted to speak to Goodell, but it turned down a meeting just with the coalition.
“We’ll see that your pocketbook gets turned down,” the NAACP’s Hazel Dukes said to the crowd.
United We Stand still wants that meeting, establishing a Sept. 7 deadline. Sanders said it wants the NFL to have a policy regarding free speech, “mechanisms to protect the players that engage” in it and penalties for teams in violation.
She said it also wants an independent unit to assess racial inequity in the NFL and to give recommendations that are implemented. And it wants NFL sponsor Verizon to support the coalition’s efforts. The crowd was told to call the company.
One of the faces in the crowd belonged to Willie Colon. The cause is bigger than football to the former Jets guard. “It’s a fight for not just Kap, but it’s about us coming together,” Colon said. “It’s sad that after Charlottesville, we’re still here . . . Racism is alive. It’s in our face.”