There was a time in my life where fall meant one thing: football season. The way White women feel about PSL, the way hipsters feel about PBR — that’s how I felt about the NFL. And fantasy football was an extension of that excitement, a way to use my extensive knowledge of stats and gameplay to flex on my friends and colleagues alike. At a previous job, the fantasy football draft rivaled the holiday party as one of the biggest team-building, morale-boosting events. What started as a few of us staying late after work to compile our teams (mine was naturally named BLM) turned into a catered bash in which everyone from temp workers to C-Suite suits participated. The league was a fantasy in every sense of the word, an escape from the real-life rigors of workplace bullshit.
And then Colin Kaepernick took a knee.
The then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback began kneeling during pregame performances of the national anthem back in 2016, a form of silent protest against police brutality and systemic racism. Of course, I had no issue — it was a noble cause that was right on time. (Plus, the national anthem doesn’t even slap, with the exception of Whitney Houston’s rendition at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. And it was written by a slave owner. Fuck that song. And fuck police brutality.) But plenty of people I worked with did.
Discussing games with White fans — some of whom I shared office space with — would often give rise to the same racist tropes we’re all too familiar with. Why is every great Black player called a “beast” or a “monster,” while White players are praised for being “smart” and “cerebral”?
It was no surprise that Kaepernick’s actions became so polarizing. One of the most pivotal elections of my lifetime was approaching, and politics began to shift from blue and red to Black and White. Kaepernick became the line in the sand for many fans. Meanwhile, all I wanted to do was watch football, which I continued to do, even as kneeling became one of the biggest stories of the season.
The star quarterback became a free agent after that season, and it slowly became clear that team owners had no plans to sign him for reasons that had nothing to do with football. And so, I decided, to hell with it. My love for the NFL was not deeper than my love for Black people. So I resolved to stop watching until the league did right by Kaepernick.
Not that it’s ever been easy being a Black NFL fan. Discussing games with White fans — some of whom I shared office space with — would often give rise to the same racist tropes we’re all too familiar with. Why is every great Black player called a “beast” or a “monster,” while White players are praised for being “smart” and “cerebral”? Plus, teams have such an atrocious track record with regards to hiring Black head coaches that the league had to implement a rule mandating every team interview at least one candidate of color. There’s a similar shortage in Black quarterbacks (like Kaepernick); this year’s opening week boasted the most starting Black quarterbacks in the league’s history with 10. There are 32 teams in the league. And best believe the achievements of those 10 are gonna get doubted and dismissed every step of the way.
Kaepernick’s blackballing, though, was my breaking point — and when watching football came to an end, so did my days of fantasy football. Most of my co-workers understood. Yet while it was naive of me to think anyone else would follow my lead (it was a sweet pot we were playing for), I was shocked to see the office league grow larger than ever that year.
Sundays weren’t all bad. Instead of spending the day flicking back and forth between football games, rooting for my real-life and fantasy squads, I focused on adulting: laundry, meal prep, tidying up the crib. The challenge was on Mondays, when the gridiron gang was trash-talking, comparing box score notes and fantasy league standings. Yes, it irritated me to see so many people actively loving a sport that did not love its Black players. But it also left me feeling as isolated as a kicker who shanked the game-winning field goal. If I’m being real, those football conversations were the only non-work banter I actually enjoyed with that crop of co-workers.
We’re now in the early weeks of the fourth consecutive season without Kaepernick on an NFL roster, and I’m standing firm in my boycott of the league. It hasn’t been easy, especially as a fan of my hometown Seattle Seahawks, who have appeared in two Super Bowls in the past decade (they won in 2014). Both championship runs have come under the leadership of a great Black quarterback in Russell Wilson, not to mention the outspoken running back Marshawn Lynch. But I refuse to support a league where racism is so blatantly pervasive. These days, when someone says, “How ‘bout those Seahawks?” I politely respond, “Can’t call it. I haven’t been watching.”