An Ally in American Football?


Written by: Zahlen Titcomb, idea maker at, co-founder of Five Ultimate, Strategist at the All Star Ultimate Tour, and co-owner of the Seattle Cascades

This article was written by a guest writer. The opinions expressed in the post belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Ultimate Project.

American football includes a greatly enjoyable pallet of agile and athletically excellent plays displayed by many athletes in the game, enjoyable to watch as much as a good Rapinoe goal or a Kobe juke. But with the populous criticism of concussion coverups and masked misogyny, it’s sometimes difficult for progressives to find an ally in american football.

A recent letter penned by Nate Boyer, former US Military Green Beret and University of Texas football player, makes one very refreshing statement in a sea of general negative press and criticism surrounding the recent stance (or lack thereof) taken by San Francisco 49s star quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Opening our ears might be the first step towards fixing an intemperate fanaticism for the NFL that can be found in the minds of a subset of it’s fans. In extreme circumstances, there is a chance that a culture that breeds aggression, promotes unbridled manliness, and perpetuates the shirking of responsibility for immoral actions, is stuck in a downward spiral of addiction.  We may be at a point where the celebration of short term gains and seasonal profitability of business ventures is hard to turn away from. That, amplified by the fear of facing the potential long term systemic consequences on society, has some players, owners, and fans caught up in a self-perpetuating struggle between us and our future selves. It is admirable for Nate to speak up in support of a fellow player, let alone a fellow human being, expressing his discomfort with the system we live in. While Nate does not offer a solution to the myriad challenges we face in society today, he points us in a direction.

The answer: Conversation? Systemic promotion of the act of listening? Understanding? A respect for the opinions of others, including our future selves? Humility? The awareness to concede that flaws are not always apparent to the owner of an idea or action?

If ending with those questions doesn’t tickle your noodle enough, grab a concept from Malcom Galdwell’s Revisionist History podcast episode titled “The Big Man Can’t Shoot.” Gladwell talks of a threshold required for people to alter ingrained and sometimes irrational actions. What is this threshold for football? In Seattle, one figurehead Seahawks player lead the team over a threshold and brought an entire city to acknowledge a conflict and start conversations stemming from Kaepernick's original protest of the state of inequity in our country.

I borrow words of Baltimore Ravens’ Ben Watson in his admirable public response to Kaepernick's’ actions: “My hope, though, is that these actions bring more attention to the PROBLEM than to the PROTESTOR. And that ensuing dialog discover truth and that truth give birth to justice in legitimate situations where there is none.”  If only there were a sport where non-violent conflict resolution was built into the foundation of the game, by design, teaching an ethos of dialogue from the onset (...Ultimate Frisbee?).  

Gladwell also states, “We like to think that good ideas would spread because they are good, because their advantages are obvious. But that’s not true. So why don’t they?”

I venture to say that while these football ‘protests’ are crucial, they are merely acknowledgements, the first step into a dialogue where we might eventually remove the systemic barriers holding us back from a more equitable future. I would also venture to say that this is a very scary space for the NFL-industrial complex, but it is refreshing to see a few courageous players that might become allies for some threshold level change.