Jesse Taylor doesn’t support the New England Trumps.
In hindsight, the decision my wife and I made at the beginning of this NFL season was actually a bigger deal than the abrupt way we went about it.
Both of us were raised in football-crazed families. For her, it was growing up with a dad who played football in college and was a die-hard 49ers fan. She was by his side for every 49ers game, whether at home on the couch or freezing in the cold winds of Candlestick Park in Hunter’s Point, San Francisco. Her Facebook page proudly showcases photos of them together, covered in 49ers gear.
For me, it was taking my knocks as the youngest in an extended family of cousins who were overly-proud of our relation to Hall of Famer Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks. All of the boys in the family were expected to play wide receiver from the moment we could pick up a football. And we all did. As the scrawniest and most discreet of the bunch, I surprised everyone by making it the furthest, playing two years in college before giving up on my NFL dreams to pursue a career I actually had a chance to succeed at: writing.
Some of my greatest memories took place on the football field. Nothing’s quite like running for your life as a wide receiver after catching the ball, being bludgeoned by the crazed-giant of a defender who’s way faster than his size should allow, and then talking trash when you realize it didn’t hurt so bad after all.
I still love the game itself. It’s a dangerous game, but players know the risks and still choose to play because, basically, it’s fun as hell. But, along with my wife, my view of the game has changed. And despite our family histories with football, we are done with it. For the first time in recent memory, this past season, neither of us attended an NFL game. And for the first time probably in our entire lives, neither of us watched one second of football on TV. The story begins on October 23, 2016.
My wife and I were standing amongst the thousands of 49ers fans at Levi Stadium when the national anthem began to play. We watched as Colin Kaepernick continued his season-long protest and took a knee. Then I snapped the below photo of my wife protesting in support of Kaepernick’s cause. It was the last time we attended an NFL game and one of the last in which Kaepernick would get to play…maybe forever.
She and I did attend one more football game at the local high school to watch a friend’s son play. That evening, several players kneeled during the anthem. With no room in the stands to take a knee, my wife protested by remaining seated, palms faced upwards, praying, as she says, “for the justice of people who look like me.”
During both anthem moments, I stood beside her, hands to my side. I didn’t look around, but still felt the weight of disapproving stares breathing down our necks. My nerves and muscles tightened. I anxiously waited for someone to yell at her, or worse, throw something. But nothing happened. I was relieved both times when the song finished and quickly sat down. I wasn’t the one protesting, but still felt pressure. If I was nervous and stressed out, how did my wife feel? Or, with all eyes on them, how much pressure did those high school kids feel? And with the entire world talking about and judging him, I can’t begin to understand the enormous amount of burden Kaepernick absorbed.
He was called idiotic and ridiculous. But after standing next to my wife during her protests, I realized just how brave Kaepernick was…how hard it must have been for him to take a stand for what he believed in.
After both of her protests, my wife and I talked about her experience. Beforehand, she was unsure if she would be able to go through with it. She was proud to have acted on her beliefs and to take a public stand for Kaepernick. But she was also worried about the reaction from strangers. She was afraid, in part thanks to our current president, of the ignorant individuals in our society feeling more comfortable speaking out and acting on their racism-veiled-as-patriotism. On both occasions, my 10-year-old stepson was with us. As each anthem began, he saw his mom’s protests and whispered to her, “What do you want me to do?”
“What you feel comfortable doing,” she responded. He chose to stand, hand over heart, and we were proud of him for making his own decision. Times moves on, and we all know the result of Kaepernick’s decision. Despite being better than at least half the starting NFL quarterbacks, he was blacklisted from the league this season; an unofficial agreement amongst the league and its owners. He wasn’t even allowed to sign as a backup.
Similar to Macklemore beating Kendrick’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City for Best Rap Album and Eminem taking home the Grammy honor six times (wait, I just looked it up. He really won six times? That is so racist.), Kaepernick was left empty-handed while mediocre quarterback after mediocre Chris-Mullin-esque-pasty-skinned quarterback was signed.
I can’t remember if it was Mike Glennon. Or maybe it was TJ Yates. Brian Hoyer? Case Keenum? David Fales? Chase Daniel? Landry Jones? Kellen Moore? Aaron Murray? Austin Davis? Jesus, who are these guys? Whoever it was, almost in unison as we heard about one of those ridiculous signings, my wife and I said, “Man, fuck the NFL.” We were done.
Today, with Super Bowl LII upon us (typing “LII” felt as stupid as reading it), we can look back now and be proud to have gone a full season without football in our lives.
(Confession: The only exception was my participation in a fantasy football league. But it’s been a 10-plus year commitment with long-time friends, so I felt justified. Also, my favorite part is I actually won the league championship without doing any research or watching any games. So not only did I protest the NFL this season, I also made $1,000 off of it. Take that Roger Goodell. The moral of this side story: spend more time with your families and less time on fantasy football.)
Giving up the NFL was not an easy decision for either of us. There were times when we missed it. Seeing 49er fans on Twitter hype up Jimmy “Gucci Garopp” made my fingers itch for the remote a few times. But we never gave in.
Because of our individual histories with the sport, giving up football was a sacrifice for both my wife and I. But the underhandedness of the NFL made it easier to get through. The owners made it easy. Donald Trump made it easy. Most of all, Colin Kaepernick’s sacrifice made it easy. We are done with the NFL. We didn’t need it like we thought we did, and we aren’t looking back.