My apologies: Change is coming and it was spurred by Kaepernick

In such matters, I normally summon the words of my favorite author, Dan Jenkins. This is what he wrote:

“I was wrong about something once. But it was so long ago.”

Not sure whether to chuckle over Jenkins’ line or issue a heartfelt “phooey.”

Because it’s hard for blatherers such as yours truly to admit being wrong.

But I do believe I swung and missed over L’Affaire de Colin Kaepernick.

What I called his “grandstanding” is turning into legitimate progress.

Recently, I wrote the following: “Kaepernick went to one knee during the Star Spangled Banner about year ago now to protest police brutality against African-Americans. It was — and remains — a necessary conversation for all of us. But he chose the entirely wrong method. His choice to show disrespect to the American flag is too inflammatory to make any subsequent conversation meaningful. He has fueled this country's craft of shouting damnation at one another, obstruction over compromise.”

Turns out that the National Football League is beginning to listen to its players’ call for social justice reform. And I believe that Kaepernick was the catalyst. No doubt his methods have irritated a segment of the masses. Progress, however, has replaced rhetoric in a very important place: The NFL offices. The official program’s name: “From Protest To Progress.”

This is what happened Monday:

• ESPN's Jim Trotter reported that "the NFL is going to formally endorse criminal justice legislation,” an idea for which several players have lobbied since Kaepernick’s protest. Joe Banner, a former NFL executive, tweeted Monday, “This is a big win for players on the issues they brought up if they can get past (the) method of protest. Seize the moment.”

• Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reported that commissioner Roger Goodell has talked to “civic-minded players” on ways “the NFL can assist them in their community endeavors.”

• More from CBS: “The league is seeking tangible ways to help players channel their concerns over social injustice, racism, police brutality and other societal ills into action at a grassroots level. Not just offering financial support but working in tandem, physically, with players as they go out into their cities both in season and in the offseason.”

• Trotter reported on “Outside The Lines” that the NFL is discussing a potential Public Service Announcement campaign on social issues, already agreeing to finance a social activism boot camp at Morehouse College in February.

Again, I ask: How much of this would have happened without Kaepernick’s instigation?

The idea that too many people have turned this into a referendum on patriotism may be right, but irrelevant. The NFL and its players actually getting into communities and encouraging productive conversation is equal parts powerful and poignant.

It’s also been reported that players and politicians have met over social justice issues already, thus making legislative change at federal levels more likely.

And so all the protesting players, called “sons of (expletives)” by President Trump, appear to be making tangible, meaningful progress. This will no doubt irritate the we-hate-everybody crowd who appear to have been emboldened and empowered recently. But without Kaepernick’s willingness to make people uncomfortable, I’m not sure this happens.

So maybe my word choice — grandstanding — was incorrect. Regardless, the residual effect is more harmony between the NFL and its players.

It’s worth watching the owners’ reactions. Remember: A number of them were Trump campaign contributors. How they’ll take to this newfound camaraderie between the league and its employees bears watching. But if the owners are smart, they’ll appreciate their players who want to reach out into their communities with the NFL’s help.

That’ll be viewed negatively on the we-hate-everybody platform. You know. The ones who just want to see football players play football. Because when they speak out, they might disturb the status quo. The status quo the we-hate-everybodys rely on.

But thinking members of society should be thrilled that change is coming.

Good for the NFL and its players. Funny how sports sure feel like they’re not about sports anymore. Once labeled the “toy department” awash in metaphorical richness, sports are becoming a vehicle to enact change. No longer is this about merely selling hot dogs at the stadium. This is about showing the world that with celebrity comes responsibility. And to use it productively.

I’m not saying every NFL player has to act like Santa Claus now. But the ones for whom social justice resonates just may have the NFL as a new, influential partner. It’s as if Colin Kaepernick just took a bar of soap and washed the canvas clean. Here comes change, folks. And Kaepernick deserves the credit.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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