Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick was ranked among the top quarterbacks in the National Football League. He started all 16 games for the San Francisco 49ers, leading the team to a 12-4 regular season record and a Super Bowl appearance.
One “career year” (2013) was followed by successive seasons of mediocrity (2014), injury (2015) and controversy (2016). Now, as teams fill out their rosters with free agents in preparation for camp, Kaepernick is unemployed. According to a report by Pro Football Talk, of the 32 NFL teams, zero have even inquired about Kaepernick.
While there is a lot of debate over why Kaepernick has not drawn any interest — including health, wealth or performance — Yahoo! Sports reporter Charles Robinson was more matter-of-fact, noting the obvious: Kaepernick has baggage. Like him or not, his unemployment has nothing to do with his athletic abilities and everything to do with his off-the-field choices.
No NFL team wants to invite the controversy and distraction that will certainly follow Kaepernick. Signing him will bring unwanted attention. The media will follow Kaepernick’s every move; hang on his every word. Teammates will be questioned about his past. Social media will blow up. The circus would surely come to town.
This is not an indictment against Kaepernick. What follows are his words, his values. Say what you will, but Kaepernick’s comments are neither right or wrong. This is a free country and, we the people, have the right to think and speak our mind. I respect that. But, remember, words matter and actions have consequences. They can free us and, sometimes, they can haunt us.
Last fall, instead of standing for the national anthem, Kaepernick took a knee in protest. He later told the media why:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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. When there’s significant change, and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
The next week he showed up at camp wearing a pair of socks depicting a cartoon figure of a pig wearing a police hat. The media pounced and Kaepernick explained:
“I wore these socks because the rogue cops that are allowed to hold positions in police departments, not only put the community in danger, but also put the cops that have the right intentions in danger by creating an environment of tension and mistrust.”
Kaepernick did not wilt under pressure and scrutiny. In fact, the controversy only seemed to strengthen his resolve.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
It’s May 2017 and Kaepernick stands alone without a team, without a contract, no endorsement deals and a clear conscious. Despite a last-ditch effort to knee-jerk (pun intended) public perception back in his favor, it appears that that Kaepernick’s career will have to take a knee — maybe permanently.