Why are we so mad about football?

People are angry about Colin Kaepernick. They just don’t agree on why.

Julie Page Morgan, from Arkansas, says she doesn’t watch the National Football League anymore in part because of the “sick disrespect” of players taking a knee or refusing to stand during the national anthem. Mr. Kaepernick’s decision to begin this trend last year was a publicity stunt, she says.

“He said he did it to show ‘solidarity’ with oppressed individuals in America,” she writes in an email. “No, he did it so they’d like him again. He hoped minorities would besiege his team’s owners to let him start as quarterback again despite his lack of talent.”

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And the players now following Kaepernick’s lead? “All to garner attention to themselves, so they could be perceived as identifying with poor blacks in America,” she says.

Yet last week, hundreds of people protested outside the NFL’s New York offices in support of the quarterback, who has been out of a job since the end of last season. Many critics have accused teams and owners of colluding against him because of his politics. More than 175,000 people have signed a change.org petition pledging to boycott the league if Kaepernick doesn’t play this season.

“It is obvious … that Colin Kaepernick is qualified to be at least an NFL backup,” longtime fan Jordan Starck writes in an open letter to the NFL, shared with The Christian Science Monitor. “The absurdity with which clubs like the Ravens maneuver to avoid signing him point to his political beliefs as a significant factor in his unemployment.”

For a league that goes to enormous lengths to enforce conformity and limit controversy – with rules governing everything from touchdown celebrations to shoelace color – the Kaepernick situation is a catastrophe. But it is not the only one. From domestic abuse to concerns over concussions, the NFL is increasingly being sucked into uncomfortable cultural territory.

On one hand, it’s a testament to the game’s pervasiveness in American life. But at a time when the country is struggling to overcome divisiveness, the NFL faces a serious challenge. To this point, it has been able to maintain its preeminent place in American sports. But there some signs that controversies might be catching up to the league – and this season is shaping up to the most fraught in years, if not decades.

“The NFL and football is always political because…

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