San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has dominated the media, dating back to the Preseason when he decided to sit for the National Anthem, and later kneel. Kaepernick has continued his stance (or lack thereof), saying that he is “Not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Weeks later, he remains in the spotlight, saying that he refused to vote and then defending oppressive former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his education policies. Many people appreciate Kaepernick for igniting the conversation about race relations and using his platform as a professional athlete to peacefully speak up. Many others are showering him with boos at games, chastising him on social media, and voicing their hatred for him at the office watercooler. Whether you love him or hate him, one thing is certain; everyone who has a pulse has heard the name Colin Kaepernick.
But I want to talk about Josh Brown. Have you heard the name Josh Brown? If you haven’t, don’t worry. You aren’t alone.
Josh Brown is a former NFL player, recently released from the New York Giants after admitting that he has physically harmed his wife upwards of twenty times. Twenty. Are you pissed off yet? Are you ready to berate him on social media, share villainizing memes, and call the NFL on its lax domestic abuse policies? But wait – there’s a kicker.
All of these events unfolded almost three months ago. Well, longer if you consider the fact that he wrote a letter to his friends in 2014 detailing the abuse, was arrested in 2015, served a damning one-game suspension at the hands of the wonderfully consistent NFL regime, and was re-signed by the Giants in a $4 million deal over the offseason. The news, social media, water cooler conversations should be all over these brutal inconsistencies, right? Well, let’s consider one more piece.
Josh Brown is white.
Look, it may not be the only reason that this story has been brushed aside, as there are myriad other significant issues plaguing our country today. At the same time, though, I’m perplexed at how people continually mock the 49ers quarterback, sharing memes and offering hate-filled comments, but have remained silent about a domestic abuser and a team and league that knowingly protected him.
One issue I have is best captured by the title of the USA Today’s Nancy Armour: “Josh Brown admitted to beating wife, and NFL barely cares.” This is the same old song and dance. The NFL and New York Giants organization tag-teamed the mishandling of the situation, claiming they were gathering more evidence, even as they levied the one-game ban. Armour is right. The NFL cares about women when it is profitable. When October ends and the pink gear goes away, the league shifts its focus to making money. Actually, I’m lying. It never shifts its focus to begin with.
What really reeks of hypocrisy to me is the position of many people – largely a conservative, Trump-worshipping demographic – when it comes to these two athletes. Our charismatic President-elect, the “Law and Order” candidate, won a particularly divisive election using some very strong racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic rhetoric. I’ve heard many people defend him in spite of, or even for, this dialogue. One of the most oft-repeated defenses is such: “They are just words. Hillary’s actions have been much worse. Benghazi. Emails. Trump just isn’t politically correct. He says what’s on his mind.” They’re just words. Should we not, then, assess NFL athletes by the same platforms? No, I do not agree with all of Colin Kaepernick’s statements, especially not a defense of Fidel Castro. But these are words, and he is peacefully speaking out in protest of real social injustices using that same platform.
Inversely, let’s talk about actions. Actions like treating your wife as your personal slave. Actions like repeated physical abuse. Actions like John Mara, the Giants owner, knowing that Josh Brown had harmed his wife and dishing out a lucrative deal in spite of that. (None of these is protected under the Constitution to my knowledge). And I cannot help but think that maybe, just maybe, the NFL, ESPN, the mainstream media might not want to risk one of its white players slammed throughout the media. The NFL has a shield to protect, and a white audience shoulders almost 85% of that very shield. I have yet to see a single internet meme that calls out Brown or the Giants organization. I have yet to hear colleagues talk about the sinister nature of these abuse accounts. I have yet to see a major news station run a detailed report, less a discreet link on the ESPN website that took some scrolling to find. Is it fathomable that these sources might want to confine the reporting on Josh Brown to reduce the risk of this backlash? Is it possible that the networks don’t want to offend or lose their beloved white viewership?
I understand that my article poses more questions than answers. But I think this case needs to be brought to light. I believe in the power of forgiveness and second chances. I believe Josh Brown, just as Colin Kaepernick and Ray Rice and Michael Vick, deserve a chance to rehabilitate their images and find forgiveness in the public eye. My intent is not to villainize Josh Brown; I just believe that societally we need to shift our way of thinking when it comes to professional athletes. If Ray Rice’s elevator footage can make the front cover of Sports Illustrated, Colin Kaepernick can get plastered over derogatory internet memes, and Richard Sherman can be labeled a thug for some strongly-worded interviews, how should Josh Brown be treated? We are fortunate to have rights afforded us by the First Amendment. And we are firmly protected by these rights. So I encourage you, boo, mock, tweet, post away. Boo Colin Kaepernick. You’re allowed. But at the end of the day, remember this: they’re just words.