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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The most interesting part of Super Bowl LIII wasn’t watching the game; it was seeing the celebrity seas part over former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick’s ostracization from the NFL.

Megastars Cardi B and Rihanna, activist Shaun King, actress Piper Perabo, and award-winning director Ava Duvernay all boycotted the event and indicated their support for the former 49ers quarterback, many tweeting #ImWithKap. It was the usual lineup of the social justice varsity.

Not only have each of those people positioned themselves against police brutality specifically, they’ve aligned themselves with criminal justice reform generally. Kaepernick’s ban from the NFL crystallizes one of the most important aspects of reform, and it’s not simply free speech or the abuse of black bodies. It’s the need for redemption and re-entry.

To me, whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality isn’t at issue. The NFL decreed that his taking a knee during the national anthem was wrong, and now Kaepernick’s facing lifetime punishment and lack of employment for that allegedly bad behavior.

It’s no different than the discrimination faced by poorer black men when they have to reveal past bad decisions on job applications by checking the “felony conviction” box. They are being kept out of an economy because they committed an offense.

Michelle Alexander, author of  The New Jim Crow, wrote that the purpose of the modern criminal legal system in the United States is racially motivated social control of black men to create “a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society.” Kap isn’t outside of society at large, but he’s out of the league and he’s being controlled, professionally speaking. The new Jim Crow is Roger Goodell.

It looks like non-celebs are making this issue unnecessarily complicated — and inconsistent.

Seventy-five percent of people polled last winter agreed that the current criminal justice system needs an overhaul because they know that mass incarceration itself is unpatriotic; too many people are locked up. And we economically bully people who’ve broken the law. And, yes, police cross the line sometimes.

Even though his protest is only a fraction of the larger reform agenda they claim to align with, a majority of people surveyed don’t think that Kap’s kneel is appropriate.

Because I’m citing separate surveys, it’s hard to tease out the hypocrites who are calling for reform out of one side of their mouths and screaming “Boycott Nike!” out of the other.

But there’s one easily identifiable person who’s rooting for reform while also sidelining Colin: owner of six-time Super Bowl-winning team the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft.

Just weeks ago, The REFORM Alliance, a new organization formed by rapper Meek Mill and Sixers’ owner Michael Rubin, announced its intention to free 1 million people from correctional control, namely probation and parole.

Motivated by their “collective disgust,” nine founding partners pledged to “leverage (their) considerable resources to change laws, policies, hearts and minds” to achieve reform of oppressive supervision systems. Kraft is one of the nine partners.

To be fair, Kraft is the only NFL team owner to be reported to have said that he thinks Kaepernick should be rehired in the league, so I don’t dismiss the Patriots’ owner as a total pretender.

But I’m not willing to call Kraft a prize, either. Back in September, when reporters asked him if he would hire Kaepernick, Kraft refused to talk about it.

The man who’s raising the sole Super Bowl ring-clad fist to champion rehabilitation and release from social control should let Kaepernick re-enter the NFL on his team; after all, Kap’s still younger than Kraft’s second-string quarterback.

But more than that, keeping Colin Kaepernick out of the league runs headlong into the justice reform movement that Kraft’s trying to advance.

Proper overhaul of the criminal justice system would never include blacklist on anyone’s employment. If you’re in favor of criminal justice reform, then you’re with Kap, too. It’s that simple.

To find out more about Chandra Bozelko and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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