Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers earlier this month. (Caylor Arnold/USA Today Sports)
Colin Kaepernick’s NFL career probably wouldn’t be in jeopardy if he was busted for a DUI last year. But since he kneeled during the national anthem to protest discrimination and police brutality, he might be ostracized from the league. There’s something gross about that.
The speculation surrounding the reasons for Kaepernick’s unemployment reached a fever pitch last week, when Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman quoted an anonymous AFC general manager who said 70 percent of NFL teams “genuinely hate him.” On Instagram Sunday, filmmaker Spike Lee posted a picture with Kaepernick, blaming his prolonged free agency on “subterfuge” and “skullduggery.” President Donald Trump, meanwhile, says he thinks his Twitter wrath is keeping the former 49ers quarterback sidelined.
“It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” he said Monday at a rally in Kentucky. “Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”
Kaepernick’s proclivity for making outlandish statements hurts his cause. Shortly before Fidel Castro’s death last year, he praised some of the Cuban dictator’s domestic policies. “One thing Fidel Castro did do is they have the highest literacy rate because they invest more in their education system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do here even though we’re fully capable of doing that,” Kaepernick said, via the Miami Herald.
Those glowing remarks about the despot who hired firing squads to kill political rivals jive with the Castro t-shirt Kaepernick wore to a press conference last summer. A few days after that wardrobe blunder, pictures circulated of Kaepernick sporting socks that depict police officers as “pigs.”
Any club that signs Kaepernick would risk facing some public relations backlash, and the truth is, many NFL teams probably don’t think he’s worth it. Since 2014, he’s completed just 59.7 percent of his passes and posted an 85.9 QB rating. The 49ers have gone 11-24 in games he’s started.
But in a quarterback-starved league, it’s difficult to imagine Kaepernick isn’t good enough to compete for a starting job somewhere. After all, the Bears recently signed career backup Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract. Just four years ago, Kaepernick’s electrifying play-making ability led the 49ers to a Super Bowl berth. He showed small flashes of that towards the end of last season, recording an 101.1 QB rating over the final four weeks.
It’s disingenuous to paint Kaepernick solely in a negative light as well. He donated $1 million to community organizations last year and helped secure an airplane that will transport supplies to Somali famine victims. The quarterback matches his words with action.
Kaepernick’s message shouldn’t be all that controversial, anyway. When he was first asked about his decision to protest during the “Star-Spangled Banner,” he pointed to the United States’ history of social injustice.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said to NFL Media last August. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
There’s substance behind Kaepernick’s point. The hostile relationship between police departments and some African-American communities remains one of the most contentious issues in America. According to the Washington Post, black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers than white Americans.
If Kaepernick expressed his thoughts to reporters without the accompanying protest, it’s unlikely he would’ve faced so much scorn. But he also probably wouldn’t have garnered as much publicity. Few things are more American than the act of staging a peaceful protest to mobilize change.
Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the anthem sparked a national conversation. In addition to other NFL players, kids on high school and youth football teams across the country followed his lead. Kaepernick’s detractors claim he’s being unpatriotic and anti-military, which flies in the face of what several veterans, including former NFL player and Green Beret Nate Boyer, have said about him. After meeting with Kaepernick last September, Beret said the quarterback’s actions are what “America is all about.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, NFL players haven’t always acknowledged the national anthem. Up until 2009, it wasn’t even standard practice for NFL teams to be on the field while the song was played. The romanticization of the pregame “Star-Spangled Banner” ritual is largely manufactured.
Besides, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported this month Kaepernick will stand for the anthem next season. His controversial protest is over.
NFL owners have little problem bringing in players with criminal histories. Last season, the Patriots signed wide receiver Michael Floyd just three days after he was arrested for DUI. Floyd, who was involved in multiple alcohol-related incidents during college, fell asleep at a traffic light and had a stupefying .blood alcohol content level of .217. Arizona authorities sentenced him to 120 days in jail for the transgression. Floyd wound up being imprisoned for 24 days after striking a plea deal.
When the Patriots acquired Floyd, fans didn’t appear outraged. They’ve been stigmatized to accept players who are charged with DUI and other crimes. But Kaepernick is apparently persona non grata, because he decided to kneel during the national anthem. That’s preposterous.
Kaepernick isn’t a Pro Bowl level quarterback, but he’s just as worthy of a roster spot as Josh McCown, who the Jets signed this week to a one-year contract worth $6 million guaranteed. At this moment, it appears as if Kaepernick is being blackballed for speaking out. That’s shameful.