Is it gut-check time for the NFL?

The National Football League needs to re-evaluate a few priorities.

A young man is trying to find a spot with one of the NFL’s professional football teams. He’s a pretty good quarterback. He once led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013.

Then he did something foolish, perhaps even stupid. He decided to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of football games. Colin Kaepernick was protesting the plight of African-Americans. He decided to make a political statement by declining to stand for the Anthem.

He’s been vilified ever since.

Why the NFL re-evaluation? Well consider a thing or two. The league has allowed actual convicted felons to play football. They’ve been convicted of spousal abuse, sexual abuse, illegal dog fighting, drug peddling. Why, one of the game’s all-time greats — retired linebacker Ray Lewis — once pleaded no contest to a charge in connection with the murder of an individual. He retired recently and has been feted as one of the game’s giants. Huh? Yep.

Kaepernick has been convicted of nothing. He has committed no crime. He merely chose to make a political statement. Yes, I wish he hadn’t done it that way. But that is his prerogative. It’s in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees him the right to do what he did.

Kaepernick was waived by the 49ers. He wants to keep playing football. General managers, team owners and head coaches are afraid of fan reaction, I suppose.

Check out John Feinstein’s excellent column on Kaepernick¬†right here.

Do you remember when a young boxer declined induction into the U.S. Army, citing his religious objection to the Vietnam War? The late Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967 and then denied the opportunity to fight for a living. He was deprived of more than three prime years of his career. Then in 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Ali had been denied his constitutional right of religious freedom.

Ali returned to the boxing ring and, well, the rest is history.

Colin Kaepernick is facing much of the same recrimination. It is unjust. It’s gut-check time in the NFL.

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