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HEWN, No. 232
"The University of Wyoming 1969 Football Team. The "Black 14" wore black armbands in a game versus BYU to protest the racial policies of the school and the Mormon church. The players had their scholarships revoked and were kicked off the team.

For my high school gym teacher Mel Hamilton, one of the "Black 14": someone who taught us early that athletes have long been activists

I’ve been a Denver Broncos fan my whole life. I often joke that I learned to cuss watching my dad watch the team. My dad faulted quarterback Craig Morton for the team’s failures, and I remember the first game of the QB who replaced him – the string of profanities that my dad shouted at the television when that quarterback, John Elway, lined up behind a guard and not the center to take the snap. I’ve cheered for the Orange Crush and the Three Amigos, and I’ve remained a loyal fan through decades of humiliating losses when there wasn’t much to craft a good PR campaign or nickname around. (I never cheered for Tebow, to be clear.) Every time Shannon Sharpe leans in with his commentary on the politics of sports, I want to point out to everyone that he was a Bronco (and one of the greatest tight ends in the history of the game).

But I’ll never watch football again.

I decided to boycott the NFL this year because of the organization’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick. It’s so apparent that he’s been blackballed for his activism and his protest of police brutality. (Yes, I realize there’s an argument that he’s just not that good of a QB. I don’t buy it.) I’ve thought about ordering a Broncos jersey with a number 7 on it – a 7 with the name Kaepernick, not Elway on the back. But I’m not giving the NFL another dime.

The President of the United States spoke at a campaign rally in Alabama last night and said that NFL owners should fire players who take a knee, as Kaepernick famously did last season, during the national anthem. “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump role-played to roars of approval from the audience. These protests, Trump contended, are “a total disrespect of our heritage” – “our heritage,” of course, is quite the racist dog-whistle when speaking about the actions of Black football players to a crowd of white supporters in Alabama.

Trump also blasted the NFL for changes to the game that have meant “big hits” are penalized. “Today, if you hit too hard, 15 yards, throw him out of the game,” Trump said as he mimicked a referee throwing a flag.

Trump’s complaints about football came less than a day after The New York Times reported that former Patriots player and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE when he killed himself in his jail cell earlier this year. Hernandez was 27. He’d last played football at age 23.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Hernandez’s story.

Like I said, I’m a Broncos fan, and there’s one team I hate more than any team in any sport. But I’ll tell you this: it’s a New England Patriot who’s finally convinced me: I will never watch football again. Kap could get re-hired. Every player tomorrow could take a knee. Doesn’t matter. I just can’t support this game any longer.

Wait a minute Audrey, I can hear you mutter. This is an ed-tech newsletter. What does any of this have to do with education? Everything. Football is a huge deal – culturally, financially – for schools, from middle school on. As we think about the future of education, we must not only address the labor of the professoriate, adjunct teachers or otherwise; we must address the labor of students, and particularly the labor of student-athletes. Pay them for starters, sure. But we’ve got to do more than that. I’ve previously argued that, until futurists address the NCAA in their predictions about the end of higher ed, their prattle about the coming techno-disruption means very little. Now more than ever it’s time to talk about the end of football. Two college football players died last weekend. Three died during the off-season.

This isn’t simply about exploitation of professional athletes. This isn’t simply about the politics of the NFL. The practices of K–12 education and college education are implicated here as well – how we treat and and how we create vulnerable bodies and minds. And how powerful white owners laugh all the way to the bank.

Yours in struggle,
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