I don’t understand the fascination that Black athletes have with Beats by Dre headphones. While their hip factor is high, Beats, as high-end headphones go, don’t hit all the right chords. But I have no problem with an athlete like Colin Kaepernick wearing a pair.
Unfortunately, NFL officials do.
Flexing their ruthless control yet again, they fined Kaepernick $10,000 for having the audacity to wear Beats, a brand the league has no agreement with. The NFL calls Bose its brand and officials weren’t about to let a player put his commercial deal ahead of theirs.
In a league with millions at play for brand loyalty, I can see why no official was pleased to see Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, standing at a media conference Sunday with a pair of Beats draped around his neck. The league was no more going to allow this affront to its marketing than it was going to let a player do the “Ickey Shuffle” in the end zone.
Marketing and branding fuel the economy of the NFL, so expecting the league to sit back and not fine Kaepernick is to believe that its players have the freedom to express themselves.
Today’s NFL isn’t exactly a plantation system, but the rights that the league has forced its players to give up suggests it’s moving toward one. What the league surely is not is a place where they can express themselves with consequences.
Perhaps players realize now that they aren’t the stars of professional football. They are interchangeable parts, athletes whose careers have a short life span, men whose futures are now, not tomorrow.
In the “now,” they answer to billionaires who write the paychecks. Players might talk about having the freedom to express their individuality, but they dare not. For the hard reality is NFL players are fearful of risking one or two paychecks to grab a bit more control over what they do – on and off the field.
So you won’t see any of them standing up and defending Kaepernick’s right to do things his way.
Yet they should stand up. They should stand up if for no other reason than Kaepernick was sporting his Beats in support of a worthwhile cause: Breast Cancer Awareness.
I suspect Beats, a brand that Apple paid a king’s ransom for earlier this year, will fork over the 10 grand on Kaepernick’s behalf. For Beats, the controversy about its pricey headphones is publicity the company welcomes.
Not that it matters. For the larger issue – the more salient issue – is what control players like Kaepernick still do have. The league is digging ever deeper into a player’s pockets; it has stripped the players of the remaining vestiges of what it means to be an individual.
Football, of course, is a team game, but that fact ought not stop a man from expressing his personality, particularly when he can profit from doing so.
What Beats is giving Kaepernick is a pittance compared to what Bose is giving the league. So if Kaepernick or other NFL players want to earn a few dollars for marketing a brand, they should be allowed to.
Whether players like Kaepernick wear Bose or Beats off the field will have no effect on their performances on the field. Preventing grown men from having a right to choose, however, is simply un-American. But it’s also the NFL’s way.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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