ATLANTA – There’s a lot going on here in Atlanta for Super Bowl week: Fan experience events during the day, parties galore at night, street preachers yelling into microphones on corners around the convention center, restaurants and bars jam-packed with customers.
But on Friday, in a quieter part of town at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church), the NFL Players Association co-sponsored an interactive conversation about social responsibility and civil and labor rights in sports. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and WNBA star Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream joined senior pastor Rev. Raphael G. Warnock for the discussion.
Earlier in the week, members of the Players Coalition held a news conference discussing some of their social justice efforts, and on Thursday, Smith gave his annual state of the league address for the union. But Smith said the event at Ebenezer Baptist was important because, after much of the Thursday news conference had to do with league issues like the CBA and salary cap, he believed the discussion at the church gave him the opportunity to have a meaningful discussions on faith, race, social and gender discrimination issues and athletes’ roles in helping find solutions for change.
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Smith is encouraged by the efforts of players around the league to fight for justice, and he’s appreciative of the financial support and additional efforts offered by the league’s owners.
“I believe things are bending towards justice,” he said. “I have to. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
But he added that he remains disturbed over the fact that owners still haven’t let Colin Kaepernick back into the league.
On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell maintained the stance that Kaepernick isn’t being blackballed by owners for his decision in 2016 to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against minorities and other social injustices. Goodell said that if teams believed the quarterback could help them, they would have signed him by now.
But after seeing a litany of seemingly less talented quarterbacks sign contracts while Kaepernick remains out of work, Smith simply can’t agree. He finds it contradictory on the part of owners that they’re donating resources toward social justice efforts yet still refuse to give Kaepernick a shot.
“I wonder whom on the NFL side has thought about how history is going to look at them given the near universal belief that Colin Kaepernick should be on a team. I think about those things,” Smith said. “Leagues do a great job of telling the story backwards. Major League Baseball tells a great story backwards about Jackie Robinson. But telling the story from the front forward is, well, there had to be a separate negro league. So, I think it’s an interesting way to pose the question of, of what’s going to be the story forward on Colin Kaepernick is not a great story for the National Football League. … So, what’s history going to say about this, and I think history is going to say that he should have been on a team.”
Smith said that Kaepernick’s collusion grievance against the league remains ongoing, and the hearing is expected to take place this spring.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.