The NFL has found itself at the center of a political firestorm with currently unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick igniting a huge debate. Fans have been discussing a boycott of the league this year in support of Kaepernick and his peaceful protests, causing some to look back at a 1965 pro football boycott along similar racial lines.
The now-defunct American Football League was a major pro football league in direct competition with the National Football League in the sixties. Like the NFL, the AFL held annual All-Star contests to recognize the standout players in the league. At the conclusion of the 1964-65 season, the continued integration of sports and was thought to reflect the same changes in society.
The 1965 AFL All-Star game was slated to be played at Tulane University’s stadium in Louisiana. Players were promised they’d be treated well, but quickly discovered that racism was still firmly in place. Players complained of restaurants refusing to seat and serve them, and cabs would routinely ignore players looking to be driven to area hotels.
Buffalo Bills star Cookie Gilchrist, Kansas City Chief’s standout Abner Haynes, and other Black players voiced their concerns and all 21 of them elected to not suit up for the game. Several white players, such as Hall of Fame inductee Ron Mix, and Buffalo Bills star and Republican politician, the late Jack Kemp, stood with the Black players in protest.
Under pressure, the AFL’s leadership moved the game to Houston’s Jeppesen Stadium where the West vanquished the East team 38-14.
Today, some fans are staging their own boycott of the NFL after Kaepernick’s silent protest against police brutality polarized fans on both sides of the debate. Many NFL players have chosen to follow Kaepernick’s lead and kneel during the “National Anthem,” and once more the issue of race in America has overshadowed the game.
Kaepernick’s inability to secure an NFL gig has been noted by current players, such as Seattle Seahawks defensive all-star Richard Sherman, who says many quarterbacks with lesser skills than the former Super Bowl QB are earning roster spots.
The #TakeAKnee” protest that inspired owners and players to show their solidarity after President Donald Trump called them ‘sons of bitches’ was viewed as obscuring the reason for Kaepernick’s protest in the first place, which was the continued prevalence of police brutality.
Kaepernick, who is biracial and was raised by a white adoptive family, has yet to comment on his future in the NFL or his feelings on any current protests.
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