Sports Games, Colin Kaepernick, and the Lie of Apolitical Stardom

Story modes in sports sims shouldn't shy away from the difficult truth.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

This is a hell of an article, and I’m gonna have to read it through a few more times before I soak it all in, but know that you are the man, Nick.

If there is one thing I would argue, it’s that you are going far too easy on the ESPN/Hot take culture of sports journalism, because that is one of most insidious and anti-intellectual parts of modern discourse and it absolutely knee caps every single attempt at thought provoking or dare I even say productive debate, in the eternal service of providing junkfood arguments that are easily digestible and qualitatively bankrupt.

Jeff Pearlman of Sports Illustrated wrote a couple of very good blog posts on this topic in general and Stephen A. Smith in particular back when ESPN laid off a ton of their writers.

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as a huge fan of football ‘americana’ the kaep issue is tough- on one hand, its obvious he’s getting the crap end of the stick. the problem is, there are also really good football reasons not to sign him, even as a backup. he’s a player who needs a tailored offense to thrive and the league really isn’t running offenses that work with his strong points.

i think whats happening here is a combination of things- no team is looking to build an offense around his option/pass combination play, because its not effective in the league. it was a gimmick system that even when it was working was pretty obviously dominating only because defenses didn’t have the tape to prep for it. once they did, the option players out there immediately went from starters to backups.

that said, kaep should be able to get a backup spot with his record and physical talent and the reason he can’t is because most franchises don’t want to address his social actions and that is a huge pile of bullshit. he’s better than a lot of backups in the league and hasn’t apparently asked for more or a lot more than several off them have (although maybe someone who knows more about the current rumors about salary stuff may correct me.) assuming (as i’ve heard) that he isn’t demanding starter or above average money for a backup, its hard to say his lack of work isn’t due to the NFL trying to quash someone who went outside of their cultivated rah-rah patriotic bullshit

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An incredible article that reverberates loudly on the eve of the end of the NBA Finals. Nick’s points regarding the erasure of black culture (more specifically, black suffering) in a video game based on a sport that is culturally, visually, and materially black, are nothing short of masterful.

"Ultimately, it reifies the racism that claimed the career of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and that risks claiming Colin Kaepernick’s. Sports roleplaying indulges us with the choices that we’ve always want to make for athletes, like when to call for the ball with the game on the line, or where to sign that lucrative contract. What naturally follows turns out to be who should speak up, and who should be quiet. Few in the commentariat would ever suggest Steve Kerr or Gregg Popovich are speaking out of turn whenever they weigh in on politics, and no red-faced executives bellow that they’ll never work another day in the league if they calls the treatment of blacks in America our national sin. "

Reminds me of this Bill Russell quote: “Boston itself was a flea market of racism. It had all varieties, old and new, and in their most virulent form. The city had corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-’em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists… other than that, I liked the city.’’

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i’ve always found that quote to be a little odd. yes, boston has issues with racism (especially with sports) but at the same time when bill russel was saying that, there were entire states who were using the full power of government and the gun to enforce or fight to enforce an apartheid state. we shouldn’t use relativism to excuse issues with northern cities and racism (especially red lining) but its being trotted out quite often these days in the opposite- you hear a lot of ‘yeah sure, the south was literally enforcing apartheid, but boston and detroit also had racism and therefore we should get to keep our statues or robert e. lee and enforce voter ID laws’

I haven’t quite seen it used in the context that you mention, i.e. in defense of white supremacy vanity projects like statues or in justification of voter suppression legislation. I can’t imagine that argument being taken seriously.

quotes and anecdotes about northern racism have been used for decades to shift attention and blame off of the history of jim crow. while although it is 100% fair to call out northern racism for what it is- and there isn’t any excusing it on its own merit- i grow increasingly nervous about the proliferation of ‘the north was just as bad and here are quotes’ stories i see online. yes, northern people can be racist and racism existed in the north. but to equate that with jim crow is a dangerous trend that normalizes what happened

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I completely agree. It’s a shame meaningful anecdotes have been co-opted by race realists, but I don’t think anyone here is making that argument atm, and the quote I used was used for its relevance to basketball. Russell was one of the most prominent black players in a league that had an unofficial maximum of four black players per team, and who was only granted a voice after prolonged success.

5 years ago i wouldn’t think anything of it. but in the past 4 days i’ve seen various anti boston (weirdly specific, i assume because boston has been in the news recently for racism at fenway) racism quotes used half a dozen times in comments on articles about the removal of confederate monuments pushing the concept of ‘the north is where the REAL racists are.’ i guess its a sign of the times that paranoia is so easily bred, but that seems to be the world we live in

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Ah, I got you. There was some press about Michael Che’s comment on SNL that Boston was the most racist city in America because he reiterated it at the Wilbur Theater (which is in Boston) last week. Makes sense.

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Thanks for reading the piece, all. Really appreciate it!

RE: going easy on ESPN/Hot take culture–I think a mistake I made was to leave fleshing out that argument until very late in the writing. I’d sketched it out early on, figuring it was clear what I was getting at, and then left it for one of the last things to finish. By then, I was a bit burned out, and probably didn’t have the mental wherewithal to take it to task the way it really deserves. Editing was asking for me to pull more out of it, but at that point I had been staring at the text so long that English ceased to make sense.

Crab Rangoon, things of that nature.


Great work Nick and don’t worry, feeling burned out and having words lose their meaning is a natural side effect of digesting too much ESPN coverage.

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its a solid article and it brings up a great point that should be addressed. even though i made the point above that kaep wasn’t the perfect player, he’s the guy who decided to make a stand and that may be more powerful- if tom brady or peyton manning decided to do it (and they wouldn’t, but an argument for a different day) it wouldn’t have been as powerful in the end as a guy who did it even though he wasn’t a super star who had nothing to lose. good on him in the end and good on you

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