NFL training camps have opened, and Colin Kaepernick is not on a roster. Not because he’s not good enough, he is better than a number of the backup quarterbacks in camps and who will make rosters this season (his style isn’t for every team, but it would work on plenty), but because NFL general managers and owners either were put off by his kneeling protests during the national anthem last year, or they don’t want to deal with the backlash from some fans if they did bring him in. The quality play is not what has him sidelined, you can’t make a serious case that Josh McCown and Geno Smith — both of whom have contracts — are better players. The Dolphins are trying to bring Jay Cutler out of retirement right now.
“I don’t know what his status is in the NFL, but I’m glad the NBA doesn’t have a politician litmus test for our players,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “I’d like to think we encourage our players to exercise their constitutional rights….
“The NBA is such a global game,” Cuban said in an email, “I think our players exposure to different political systems among their teammates may help them appreciate our country even more and encourage their participation.”
Former coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy added this is a league-wide culture thing that starts at the top.
“Everything starts from the top,” said ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, a former NBA coach. “Commissioner [Adam] Silver embraces all kinds of different ways of thinking. I think he encourages activism. And because of that, I believe, some of our players in the NBA feel very empowered to speak their mind.
“That’s healthy that we embrace different thoughts. You can agree with Kaepernick, you can disagree with Kaepernick, but what I don’t think you should believe is that he doesn’t have the right or he should be muzzled in any way.”
NBA players were not as dramatic in their protests during the national anthem last year, with players locking arms during the song, not kneeling. The NBA has a rule that if a player doesn’t stand for the anthem they will get fined, nobody wanted to pay it, so locking arms became the solution.
However, Cuban is right — Kaepernick would be on an NBA roster. At the heart of the difference is demographics — the average NBA fan is younger, less likely to be Caucasian, and more likely to live in an urban setting than the average NFL fan. Which is to say, the average NBA fan is likely to be more to the left on the political spectrum than the average NFL fan. Van Gundy is also right about the NBA being a more global league than the NFL, that also plays a role.
If an NBA player made a Kaepernick-style protest it would generate a lot of news, but it would not anger a healthy part of the fan base in the same way. With that, Cuban and the other NBA owners would accept it and move on.