Kaepernick, MAGA, and “Owning the Libs” – How The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill Got It All Wrong

One of the phrases I read most often on Twitter from the MAGA folks who believe President Donald Trump is making America great again is “owning the libs”. There is even a book, 69 Ways To Own The Libs: A guide to destroying liberals online and in real life. Of course, the book is free for Kindle users and authored by a guy who wrote other free books on dominating your fantasy football league. I am not sure he qualifies as an omnichannel media expert like Oprah or Ellen.

Most days, “owning the libs” means going online and bragging when someone on the right (usually Donald Trump or one of his unbearable children) says something so ignorant that the gloating person’s own mother would smack them for repeating it as they were raised better. I live in Kentucky. I have lived in Arkansas. Politics aside, most of the folks I encounter have manners (and a raising) their parents should be so very proud of. Soft spoken. Always sir or ma’am, please and thank you. Never miss a chance to hold a door. Politics aside.

Mention politics and suddenly there is a transformation, like Jekyll and Hyde. Obama? Chuck Schumer? Hillary? Wow, don’t even get them started. Everytime Donald Trump or one of his surrogates goes on the attack, ” WOOOO…he/she owned them f’ing liberals and put that Kenyan Muslim traitor, the NY Jew bastard, and Killary the Bengahzi murderer in their places.”

In a flash, they remind you that beneath the veneer of southern manners lies a bit of the old south where negroes, Jews, and women damn well better know their places. Like a superhero transformation in reverse, just put on the mask (or, a KKK hood) and suddenly everything virtuous and admirable melts away.

On Friday, President Trump signed the bipartisan legislation funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year and avoiding another shutdown. Then, he declared a state of emergency because the funding bill did not fund his border wall. Predictably, despite Trump suffering multiple humilations over the last month at the hands of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, the buzz of Twitter was all about how Trump “owned the libs“.

RELATED: Speaker Pelosi Beats Trump…AGAIN. Ann Coulter Fumes. Republicans Worry.

But President Trump and his cohorts were not the only losers wildly celebrating as if they won. The National Football League and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick settled the collusion case Kaepernick had brought against the league when he went unsigned after refusing to stand during the national anthem, an act of defiance that put Kaepernick in the crosshairs of Donald Trump and league owners enamored of Trump like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Racism, collussion, and rich old white dudes? Sometimes it is difficult to tell where the NFL ends and Trump-led Republican party begins.

Jemele Hill, writing in The Atlantic, looked as silly as those MAGA folks when she declared “the NFL lost. Massively.” You can read the entire piece here.

Hill covers sports, race, politics, and culture for The Atlantic after at stint at The Undefeated and hosting SportsCenter on ESPN. She rose to national prominence (or, a new level of prominence) with this tweet from September 2017:


She’s not wrong.

A month later, after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones publicly vowed that players who refused to stand for the national anthem would not play, Hill called for a boycott of Cowboys’ sponsors:


Again, she isn’t wrong. But personal views expressed on the air were explicitly prohibited by ESPN after the first incident, and this second offense resulted in a two-week suspension for Hill.


I enjoy reading what Jemele Hill writes. I admire her tenacity and her willingness to speak her mind and to stand up for what she believes in her heart to be right no matter the cost. And after all, isn’t that the same stand (and risk) Colin Kaepernick took? Maybe that is why Hill looked at Friday’s settlement with the NFL as a victory when in fact it was a crushing defeat?

“The NFL lost. Massively.”

“What matters is that he bested a league that has a long history of pummeling its opposition in court, especially players.”

“Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback ever, couldn’t beat the NFL in court.”

“That Kaepernick was the one to make the NFL eat crow is a special kind of karma.”

Hill kept going on and on sounding like one of those MAGA folks “owning the libs“.

But look, the NFL admitted no wrong. The NFL did not apologize. Nor did Commissioner Roger Goodell. Nor did a single team owner. Nor did President Trump. The details of the settlement are sealed and all parties involved agreed to non-disclosure agreements. All the NFL gave up was money, and they have plenty of money to burn. Even if Kaepernick received more money than he might have earned over the course of his career, he did not get to play. He never won a Super Bowl. He will always be that guy, the pariah.

Thirty WHITE owners (more if you consider that many teams have multiple WHITE owners) wrote a check and walked away from the wrongs they did to a young person of color without apologizing or even publicly aknowledging their disgusting conduct. Same as they did with the concussion settlement.

THAT is where Jemele Hill missed the point. Kaepernick knelt to draw attention to the way racism negatively impacts young men of color in America and how the SYSTEM (money, power, position) reinforces that impact in life altering (or life ending) ways. To declare victory without getting an admission of guilt, or an apology, or a promise to change the system…is a loss. A huge loss. This is not a time for celebrating.

Note: There are 32 NFL teams. Only Jacksonville Jagaurs owner Shahid Khan is not white. He is Pakistani. The Green Bay Packers are publicly owned.


UPDATE 2/18/2019 9:00 ET

Reports continue to leak out that the settlement was NOT the kind that hurt owners in the wallet.

One report by Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk today speculates that because the settlement did not require the vote of all 32 owners (only the executive committee voted) and because the Green Bay Packers (the NFL’s only publicly-traded franchise) did not issue any sort of notification of financial impact, the settlement was likely less than $10M. That works out to just over $300K per team. An undrafted rookie gets paid $480K for his first season, so that should give you an idea of how little any team will care about writing this check.

Kaepernick declined his 2017 option with San Francisco worth $16.9M. It seems this settlement is, at best, little more than half of what he would have earned in 2017 and offers nothing for the lost 2018 salary.

It is looking more and more like the NFL did what many large corporations do when facing a major lawsuit they are likely to fight for years. They add-up all the money they will spend in legal bills fighting the case (even if they were to eventually win) and offer that as a settlement upfront before the case goes to court. Why? They get cost certainty. They get to avoid admitting guilt. They get to force the plaintiffs to accept a non-disclosure agreement and often a strict gag order. They get to make it seem like the plaintiff was only interested in fast money and not about long-term change.

I am happy Colin Kaepernick got paid some of what he sacrificed by taking a stand, or more accurately, taking a knee. And as this settlement covers the past but does not buy-out any future rights to play in the NFL, Kaepernick should force the NFL’s hand by immediately filing a new lawsuit this fall if he does not find his way onto an NFL roster for the 2019-20 season. But this is not a massive win for Kaepernick nor a massive blow to the NFL. The business of the NFL is business, and this was just business.


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