Burgess Owens, a former NFL safety who played for the New York Jets, says he is prepared to stop watching the league because of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent lobbying for the return of Colin Kaepernick and the sanctioning of player protests during the national anthem.
“If Goodell allows Kaepernick to come back, if they allow players to kneel during the national anthem, I’m willing to not watch the game,” Owens, who is Black and Republican, told Sports Illustrated’s JetCountry.com.
“The only thing that can change the league is to change commissioners. This has been going on way too long, it is four years of this mess.”
Owens, who spent 10 years between the Jets and Oakland Raiders, currently is running for Congress in Utah on a platform of family values. He is one of the few prominent former Black players who is siding with President Donald Trump on the issue of NFL players protesting social issues during the national anthem.
The issue with Kaepernick and his protests has been a tricky one for the league over the past few years. However, in recent days, Goodell has said that the league would welcome Kaepernick back. The quarterback hasn’t played since 2016 with the San Francisco 49ers and recently settled a lawsuit with the league in which he accused the NFL of blacklisting him due to his protests. He has repeatedly stated that he is not protesting the national anthem itself but merely using this moment before a game as a platform for these issues.
Goodell also has said that the league was wrong in its handling of the protests.
Taken in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Jets, Owens is running in Utah’s fourth district. The state’s primary is June 30. This is his first dive into politics although he has been outspoken as an author and speaker on conservative issues for quite some time. In recent years, he has been actively engaged in mentoring youth.
A Democrat during his playing days, Owens says his political evolution came in the 1980s during the Ronald Reagan administration. Back then, he found his views as a small business owner more aligned with the Republican party. He cites values of faith and education as being influential in his switching of parties during this time.
Owens says he was influenced by an upbringing in which education was emphasized. His father, a World War II veteran, was a college professor at Florida A&M. His mother was a high school teacher.
He calls the current tension in the country part “of a culture war in which there is an ideology trying to tear our country apart.” For two weeks, the nation has been gripped by protests over the very policing issues and anti-racism that led Kaepernick to take a knee four years ago.
Owens adds that the movement to bring back Kaepernick isn’t based on meritocracy.
“If it was a meritocracy he would be out there anyway, he would work hard, he would prove himself. He wouldn’t be taking someone else’s position. We’re looking at Affirmative Action for a Marxist. We’re approving their ideology,” Owens said.
“If we’re going that route, we should also ask Tim Tebow to come back. It doesn’t matter how long he’s been out of the game. It doesn’t matter his talent. He was a Christian who kneeled in prayer and was a positive on his team. The reason why Tim Tebow, as talented as he was with the Denver Broncos, the NFL didn’t like his essence. They thought he was too distracting…too distracting to his team and the organization.
“Meanwhile we’re willing to have the distraction of a Marxist, a Castro, brother loving Marxist to come back and play that many Americans don’t want to see him play. I just find it very disappointing. The NFL lost 15 percent of their audience last time, maybe a little bit more. The goal has been to increase their base, their revenue by going overseas to places like China, Mexico and England. They don’t care enough about their fans who love this country.”
Owens says Kaepernick should not be praised. During his time outside the NFL, Kaepernick has remained in the spotlight and, while he has stated a desire to continue playing, his advocacy work and mobilization of public issues have defined him more than having quarterbacked the 49ers to the Super Bowl during the 2012 season.
“We have too many Americans now accepting the notion that the flag should be a place where people should be ashamed of or take a knee, that’s what it comes down to,” Owens said.
“I am disappointed that so many people are acquiescing today. They don’t understand the American way, they don’t understand the price paid. They need to understand that we can’t be bullied and [also] that we’re not an evil country. There is no other country in the world with the mixing of races and tolerance. We have to change the current narrative.”