When the 1987 NFL strike ended, players who walked the picket line were paired with replacements who had taken their jobs … and then asked to accept them.
That was tough.
But while reconciliation was hard, it had to be done. And it had to be done — said former linebacker Gary Plummer, one of the vocal leaders of the San Diego Chargers’ strikers — for a necessary reason.
“There is one thing that is honored and revered in professional football,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, saluting the 30th anniversary of the ’87 strike, “and that is: Can … you … play? That’s it. Doesn’t matter what race you are. Doesn’t matter what religion you are. Doesn’t matter where you are on the pay scale. Can .. you … help … us … win? That’s all that matters.
“Yeah, we were jerks the first week to (San Diego to replacement players like) Joe Phillips and Blaise Winter and the rest of them. But when we saw that they could play and that they could help us, you embrace them.”
And that’s where Plummer’s answer took a sharp turn to today’s game, with the former Chargers’ and 49ers’ star relating what happened then in the NFL to what’s going on now. And what’s going on now is a whole lot of talk and public unhappiness over the failure of NFL teams to sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who a year ago knelt for the National Anthem.
Kaepernick’s action was in response to what he believed to be racial injustice and the unfair treatment of individuals, and it has gone coast-to-coast in the year since — with players across the NFL joining arms or taking knees last weekend in protest. The failure to sign Kaepernick is widely perceived as a direct response to his protests, and Plummer not only sees a link to with what happened to others in the league in 1987 but believes he knows what’s really behind it.
“Where I’m saying this dovetails into what’s going on currently (is) this big argument on Kaepernick,” he said. “Look, if he could play, he’d be playing. End of story. I don’t care what the motivation is for all this garbage that you’re seeing out there. Trust me, NFL coaches … NFL owners … they want to win. And if you’ve got a guy out there who can help you win, you’re going to sign him.”
Let me tell you right now: If he was on the 49ers when all of us were there, he would’ve never made it on to the field — (and) not because of his ability or inability. Nobody would’ve allowed him on the field to be a distraction during the game.
Kaepernick had tryouts and seemed this close to signing with the Baltimore Ravens. But, like others before them, they passed, leaving him a free agent still looking for work.
“The guy’s a distraction,” said Plummer, “and that was part of the issue with what happened to the 49ers in that strike year of ’87. They had so many guys that crossed,it did create a lot of dissension.
“It’s just amazing to me there’s this controversy right now about Kaepernick. Let me just tell you right now: If he was on the 49ers when all of us were there, he would’ve never made it on to the field — (and) not because of his ability or inability. Nobody would’ve allowed him on the field to be a distraction during the game.
“If you want to protest after the game, congratulations. You know what … grab a flag, run around Candlestick Park, do your thing. That’s on your own time. (But) When you start messing with the ability for players to focus on the one thing they’re supposed to do on Game Day, now you’re trying to take money out of my pocket. And it’s not going to happen.
“It wouldn’t have been just me. There would’ve been a couple dozen guys that wouldn’t have let him out of the locker room until the National Anthem was over. You want to do your protest? Congratulations. Do it after the game on your own time or before the game on your own time. So that just dovetails into some of the issues that happened during that strike year.”