Super Bowl: Latest Kaepernick Smoking Gun is Anything But
ATLANTA (973espn.com) - When you're a public entity typically nothing matters more than that public's perception.
That's how Joe Lockhart, best known for being the White House Press Secretary for two years during the administration of Bill Clinton, came to power as the chief of the NFL's messaging as executive vice president of communications for nearly two years before leaving the job after Super Bowl LII, ostensibly to spend more time with his family.
On paper it looked like a good fit, a "progressive" ideologue with experience handling the toughest issues imaginable for what has tried to be a progressive league but one which has been painted as the exact opposite for a number of reasons, things like it's slow reaction to issues of domestic violence and the perceived "blackballing" of Colin Kaepernick.
In theory, Lockhart should have earned his stripes in D.C. with a certain segment of the media but most football writers don't exactly pay attention to the day-to-day grind inside the Beltway unless it concerns Daniel Snyder and the mess he has made the Redskins.
To them, Lockhart was just the latest mouthpiece for a league "that believes domestic violence isn't quite as bad as smoking weed" and is actively banning a "talented player for his activism." His CV simply didn't exist to a new group of reporters searching for confirmation bias and little more.
Logically the above charges are absurd but try explaining a collective bargaining agreement which has clear and structured penalties for substance abuse versus nebulous ones for personal-conduct issues. Try explaining why Malcolm Jenkins is doing just fine in the league despite being a far busier activist than Kaepernick ever will be.
Virtue signaling on Twitter, on the other hand, is often addictive, especially when the likes and retweets start to pile up.
For all those reasons Lockhart and his tenure with the NFL was a disaster and the damage he did by bringing a political mentality to the league is still being felt a year later on the eve of Super Bowl LIII with YAHOO!'s Charles Robinson reporting the NFL used a Washington consulting firm to poll Americans whether Kaepernick should have been signed by a team.
The research, of course, was done by the Glover Park Group, the consulting firm co-founded by Lockhart and it was designed to get the public's pulse on a number of high-profile issues the league was struggling with, including domestic violence, gambling, player safety and player protests.
According to Robinson, the sources noted that Kaepernick was the only player singled out in the research for specific opinions, the latest smoking gun for the truthers searching to validate that confirmation bias.
For instance YAHOO!'s take was that "The poll could create a significant point of contention in Kaepernick’s collusion complaint against the NFL, raising the question of why the league conducted opinion research with its fan base about the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback."
And maybe if you didn't know Lockhart and what he does that would be a sensible take.
The problem is he served for and learned under a president who did not make a move until polling the American public and created the GPC, a lobbying outfit with expertise in crisis management and opinion research, with fellow Democrat operatives Carter Eskew, Michael Feldman and Chip Smith.
If there is a scandal here it's an executive VP of the NFL funneling work to his friends and the company he helped create, not a bunch of liberals shield-ing a monolithic conservative league unfairly blackballing an African American.
Like any good conspiracy, the Kaepernick one has always been riddled with obvious holes but it also has at least some plausibility, especially when you put common sense in the backseat while driving to the destination you've already typed into the GPS.
However, if Joe Lockhart polling people is a smoking gun to some than the sun rising in the east on Super Bowl Sunday will be quite the surprise as well.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen