On Wednesday, 32 NFL team owners voted unanimously to approve new penalties on teams with players who kneel during the national anthem (they're also given the option of staying in the locker room, out of sight, while the anthem plays). There was one abstention from Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers, the team where the controversy began during the 2016 preseason when quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the anthem.
It's not surprising that a bunch of very wealthy bosses are using unethical means to stifle their workers. But the new rules were ushered in with the help of an owner who recently has attached himself to social justice: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Kraft became a vocal advocate for Meek Mill's release from prison after the Philly rapper was sentenced to two to four years for a probation violation, a stiff judgement that lit a spark in the movement for criminal justice reform. "It's just wrong," Kraft said in April after visiting Mill in prison, claiming he knew the need for change all too well. "I know some of our players in the NFL have talked about this. I see it firsthand. It’s just wrong. We have to find a way to correct it and also help the community help themselves."
Despite his professed familiarity with the systemic anti-blackness the protests were meant to draw attention to, Kraft still voted against the interests of his black players and, secondarily, the cause of free speech. Perhaps it's payback for being deposed last week by Colin Kaepernick's lawyers in the former QB's collusion case against the NFL. Still, the dollar amount of favorable press Kraft received from his co-signing of prison reform likely dwarfed the $1 million Kraft donated to the inauguration of Donald Trump, but is probably not as much as the cash he allegedly has stored Bermuda tax havens. The vote is an important reminder for anyone who still sees Kraft as the rich white guy hanging out courtside with rap's biggest hero. When it comes down to his bottom line, Kraft has more in common with the average billionaire than he'd like you to think.