Bittersweet vindication for Kaepernick

I used to say the verdict of history would vindicate Colin Kaepernick and he would be remembered as a civil-rights icon like Rosa Parks.

I was thinking this would happen 10 or 20 years from now.

I didn’t realize it would take only three years.

It turns out Kaepernick was ahead of his time in kneeling for the national anthem to protest police brutality against blacks.

His critics – including Donald Trump – said he was disrespecting the flag while NFL teams refused to hire him.

When he started kneeling, the majority of Americans thought the killings of blacks by police were isolated incidents. Now the majority doesn’t think that.

What changed is that in the cellphone era, police incidents of violence against blacks were caught on video tape.

And then came the eight minutes and 46 seconds when an officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck.

That video changed America and led to protests all over the nation.

And it changed the NFL.

When commissioner Roger Goodell first issued a bland statement, players were outraged and with the help of an NFL employee put together a video expressing their dissatisfaction.

That led to Goodell’s apology in which he said they should have listened to the players about the protests and that the league encourages peaceful protests.

And even before that, Drew Brees and his wife both apologized publicly for not recognizing kneeling was not disrespecting the flag but a protest against police brutality.

Trump, of course, knocked Brees for apologizing and Goodell for his statement, but Goodell knows he has to stand with the players to be on the right side of history.

Unfortunately, Goodell didn’t mention Kaepernick. That was still a bridge too far for him.

It remains to be seen if Kaepernick will get hired. Goodell’s words will seem shallow if he isn’t.

But if the NFL plays the anthem this fall before games – they might skip it since there will probably be no fans in the stands – players will be kneeling.

And Kaepernick, whether he plays or doesn’t play, will be remembered as a man ahead of his time.

NFL needs to pick up minority hiring where Rooney left off

As the NFL grapples with its minority hiring problem, one thing is becoming obvious.

The Rooney Rule doesn’t work without Dan Rooney.

Or, as his wife, Patricia, said in a book “A Different Way To Win” about Rooney by one of his sons, Jim, “Maybe they thought when he left, the (Rooney) rule left.”

There are many reasons for the NFL’s woeful record on minority hiring in the front office and coaching ranks in a league where over 70 percent of the players are minorities. Among them are cronyism, nepotism and the lack of minority owners.

But the absence of Rooney, who died in 2017, has been a major factor in the league’s lax record in recent years.

There were six minority coaches in 2005 and eight by 2011. It then took a dip before going back to eight in 2017 and 2018 and now it is down to four.

Jim Rooney’s book goes into much detail on how Rooney not only lobbied to get the Rooney Rule passed in 2003, but kept the issue on the front burner and encouraged his fellow owners to hire minorities.

But he took a step back from league affairs in 2009 to become the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

And nobody in the league picked up the torch, leading the league’s executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent, to say in a recent conference call that the league has a broken system.

Vincent can’t knock his boss, but another problem is that commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t exactly been a leader in the campaign to promote minority hiring.

And his proposal to give teams that hire minorities improved draft position was a nonstarter.

Although the league did pass some measures to take a step in the right direction. The owners agreed two minority candidates must be interviewed for head coaching jobs and there has to be at least one minority interview for the coordinator jobs. And one minority candidate for the senior football position, usually the GM.

And teams can’t deny assistant coaches to be interviewed by other teams even if they are under contract.

They also have to interview minorities or women for all senior positions including club president and executive roles in communications, finance, human resources, legal. football operations, sales, marketing, sponsorship, information technology and security.

But if things are going to improve in a major way, Goodell needs to step up and lobby the owners to hire more minorities. He has to do the work behind the scenes to make it happen. He has said he talks with each owner at least once a month. Minority hiring has to be a big part of those conversations.

The buck stops at Goodell’s desk now to fill Rooney’s role since none of the other owners have stepped up to the plate.

If things don’t start improving, he has to take responsibility for not finding ways to convince teams to hire more minorities.

Granted, he can’t order them to do it but he can find ways to convince them that it is good for the league and the teams to improve their minority hiring.

Goodell needs to pick up Rooney’s torch.