Gentlemen’s Quarterly is not typically the defining mechanism of a man’s work. At least it shouldn’t be, not by my narrow concept of what is still a predominantly style-based magazine.
But when it named Colin Kaepernick its Citizen Of The Year, as told in the words of other admiring celebrity mavens, it recalibrated a lot of things we have taken for granted.
Like conscience. He had one. He exercised it at considerable personal cost and became a national touchstone on the real beginning of the new century. He put a cleaver to our national pretense of “one country” and made it plain that football isn’t meant to be the be-all and end-all of a football player’s life. A man must have a code, after all, and human decency for all under an umbrella of America-as-it-ought-to-be is his.
But his code was revealed in rejecting football (or actually, having it reject him), and while the national tide has swirled around him, he also helped reveal the slowly but discernibly rotting underpinnings of the National Football League which is responding to all this external struggle by eating itself. The NFL's power and resources are vast, so the cannibalism will take a decade and likely more, but it is happening right where everyone can see.
The owners are eating their hand-selected commissioner, who is using shape-shifting and often extra-legal standards to eat some of the game’s biggest names, who are eating each other with every helmet-to-helmet collision and disregard for their mutual power.
The next generation of sports fans is eating its remotes by finding other things to do in record numbers, the past and present generations of sports fans are using football as a meal for its own political positions, and the next generation of media executives are eating their own preconceptions about a football-based programming economy at a time when their own long-range projections are being undercut by technological advancements.
Plus, and let’s not forget this, the current president is wreaking his harpie’s revenge on the men and women who rejected him decades ago as a potential NFL owner because he was too malignant even for them.
Now what business should survive based on that? Well, there is that too-big-to-fail thing, but I wouldn't bank on that being true forever. Having ignored the slowly building health and safety considerations and the changing demographic tastes, it was shown all of it in its festering glory when Kaepernick decided one man’s voice wasn’t too small, and one man’s platform wasn’t too rickety.
And he wasn’t even going after football. He was going after social inequity and cruelties, the way a good citizen should.
So maybe GQ isn’t the Nobel Prize, or Time’s Person Of The Year. But credit to them for getting the sentiment right by seeing Kaepernick as a citizen in the most meaningful way a citizen can be viewed, and woe betide the National Football League for being collateral damage in a rapidly changing nation that is trying in its far too clumsy and often hateful way to relocate its essential reason for being.