Colin Kaepernick – Is the NFL really to blame?

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick worked workout at Charles R. Drew High School in Georgia after the NFL had prepared a similar setup for him at the Atlanta Falcons’ facility. (Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By just seeing the picture above, it is clear that this is yet another story about arguably the most controversial situation in NFL history: the story about Colin Kaepernick, his choices, and beyond. This might be another story written by the same stereotypical white, uninformed journalist that doesn’t capture the entire situation, a situation that both you as a reader want to hear and Kaepernick as the prime suspect wants to be heard. Despite the best efforts from countless journalists, all more experienced than myself, some clarification needs to be composed and a conclusion needs to be discovered.

Politics connect society and sports, whether it is good politics of sports like the post-9/11 ceremonies held at Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field or the bad politics like the Baltimore riots leading to an empty Oriole Park for a game vs. the White Sox. Whatever happens outside of sports facilities is brought in, either by social media or by word of mouth. This can force the players, the leagues, and the media to make narratives, some of which might not be appreciated by all involved parties. If the league intended to involve politics, they would have come into existence equipped with a political branch that aided players in making decisions and choosing the right path to go down.

All football fans are familiar with Colin Kaepernick, the 2011 second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers from the University of Nevada who was pushed into the starting role following starting QB Alex Smith’s concussion just two years later. In Smith’s relief, Kap led the 9ers to the playoffs that same season, and Head Coach Jim Harbaugh elected to stick with the dual-threat Kaepernick over the game-managing Smith.

In the years that followed, Kaepernick’s play regressed, and that combined with the retirement of players due to significant injuries or old age didn’t help the team’s development. Harbaugh was fired, and the franchise that seemed set for future greatness seemed to be on its way to another rebuild. Kaepernick became stuck in the center of this debacle, and by 2016, he seemed to fit in with the rest of the average quarterbacks.

One thing that did make Kaepernick stick out from the other average passers occurred before the 2016 regular season. Ahead of the third preseason game at home vs. Green Bay, Kaepernick, who finished the game passing 2/6 for 14 yards, was seen kneeling during the national anthem, sparking a movement still being fought for today.

Colin Kaepernick, right, and Eric Reid kneeling during the national anthem before an N.F.L. game last year.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, right, and Safety Eric Reid kneeling during the national anthem before an NFL game (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

As the 2016 season carried on, NFL players knelt alongside Kaepernick in protest, and before long, similar protests were made by both individual players and other professional sports teams revolving around the same situations Colin Kaepernick was fighting for. As for Kaepernick and his NFL career, his last NFL game was a 25-23 loss vs. Seattle on New Year’s Day, 2017, and was released in March of the same year.

Fast forward to November 2019. The NFL planned a workout for him at the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility, providing him with NFL-level coaches, players, equipment, and media crew, the latter producing film for all 32 teams to view. No strings were attached. All Kaepernick had to do was show up.

He didn’t.

Instead, the free-agent quarterback took his NFL ‘interview’ into his own hands, moving the site to Charles R. Drew High School, one hour away from the original location. Kaepernick provided his own coaches, asked his own selection of football players to practice with him, his own media staff, his own security, and he would provide the film that would be sent to the 32 teams of the NFL. He essentially moved away from the NFL in hopes of getting closer to them.

After nearly five years of having a Kaepernick-free NFL, he now wants to go back into the league that allegedly blackballed him. It must be questioned why is he trying to enter into the league that he disagrees with, who is at fault for Kaepernick being out of the league, and why is it that media writes about him as if he played in the league yesterday?

For these questions to be answered, connections need to be made, and multiple ideas need to be proposed concerning all parties involved.

Something often overlooked was how the 9ers handled Kaepernick’s termination in relation to his contract. In June of 2014, the 49ers and Kaepernick inked a six-year, $126 million contract, including a record $61 million in guaranteed money. If all paid out, Kaepernick would have been on the team until the conclusion of the 2020 season. However, the contract was restructured in October of 2016, creating a 2-year contract with a voidable second year. Both parties would be able to utilize this void method as agreed on by the terms. Following the adjustment, one could say that the team was preparing to blackball him by the end of the season, however, both sides did agree on the terms, making that irrelevant. Along with that, the void clause was acted on by Kaepernick’s team, although if Kaepernick didn’t act, the team was intending to opt-out of his contract anyway; Kaepernick just acted first. This erases any accusations against the 49ers organization attempting to blackball Kaepernick. It almost seemed like Kaepernick’s camp agreed to and acted on the voidable option due to the direction the team was headed. Like many of his former teammates, the former star quarterback desired his prime years not to be wasted.

How did his 49ers teammates respond? Just like any average American group of people, there are whites, blacks, and other races mixed into the roster of the San Francisco 49ers. Most of the white players either wanted to stay out of the controversy or were against his actions of kneeling for the national anthem. A majority of the African-American players commended him for standing up for what he believed in, acknowledging that he has every right to do so. One of the linemen, a pacific islander, preferred to stay out of the controversy. Michael Vick, another black, dual-threat quarterback in the NFL, commented that he needs to look more professional, commenting about Kap’s massive afro he donned during the 2016 season, although he later applauded him on acting on the matter.

When observed, the media resorts to looking at four different parties at fault of Kaepernick and his rejection from the NFL. Stories have been inconsistent on whether one situation is right or wrong. Writers always claim that their position is the most correct, but it should be up to the reader to determine what they believe since it is outside the sports realm.

The most popular idea suggests that the NFL blackballed him out of the league. It might not be the most evident argument, as Kaepernick himself requested his release from the 49ers. He might have been against the league or even vice versa, but the league wouldn’t go as far as telling each team not to sign the player. Although Kaepernick became a social rights activist by using his NFL platform, the league shouldn’t shy away from that, as their role as a governing organization should be supporting the players and give them a media platform to promote the ideas they support. Not only should the league make these things possible, but they should allow it, as it provides the opportunity for outreach to a new group of viewers. He might not have been the best quarterback, but so many passers have been granted a variety of other opportunities that it should seem morally right to give Kaepernick a second opportunity as well.

Other sources believe that Kap’s production was the cause of teams refusing to sign him. He was inconsistent throughout his final few seasons, but that is primarily due to the mass exodus of experienced players; he was the quarterback in the middle of a complete rebuild. Head coach Chip Kelly was given the difficult task of choosing starters week to week, and because both passers were inconsistent, it was tough to pick the QB1 every week. In 2016, Kaepernick and backup QB Blaine Gabbert finished with one win apiece in Kelly’s only season as head coach in San Francisco. Gabbert had started just six games, while Kaepernick started ten games. San Francisco was aware of their situation, and the production of Gabbert and Kaepernick showed that neither could be in the future of the organization.

Another possibility vaguely discussed is how coaches and managers might be preventing the veteran passer from joining their teams. Simply put, Kaepernick would be a distraction to the team. As a starter, he would not only be an attraction for the media, but he would likely demand things that not all players would agree with. As a backup, he would bring more attention than a typical backup, which might motivate teams to stick with a more standard, no-hassle backup. It is common knowledge in football that distractions lead to poorer play on the field, a reason why Kaepernick’s actions would likely not be appreciated by the coaches or the managers.

Finally, some believe that Kaepernick is the one keeping himself out of the league. Right alongside being a distraction, Kaepernick draws attention to himself. For instance, look at how he moved the workout. The workout was set up for him at the Falcons’ facility, along with coaches and players who were there to support him. But, instead, he wanted to make a statement using his workout. What he wore, where he worked out at, who he worked out with, even who was invited. He planned everything about the workout to fit his agenda. He decided to move the workout, just like he decided to opt-out of his contract with San Francisco.

Colin Kaepernick stands next to Blaine Gabbert
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, stands next to quarterback Blaine Gabbert, right, during a game in 2015. (AP)

So, what was it? The truth will likely never come out, as it looks like the former 49ers franchise quarterback is sticking with being a rights activist for now. However, speculating the background information regarding the Kaepernick situation can be beneficial so any similar situation is better handled by the general public, the media, and the NFL in the future.

Although the Kaepernick vs. NFL situation might seem to have died down, the league might never solve what Colin Kaepernick and others wanted to be solved. Since the situation occurred, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league officials have put forth more effort and thought into decisions made regarding players’ rights and beliefs. At first, league officials tried their own methods of solving issues, but now they seek out the insight of the players. They began to realize that without players, they would not hold the power they currently obtain. As for Kaepernick, it doesn’t look like he will get back into the league; however, he continues to fight for black equality and for what he believes in, something which we as humans should generally strive towards daily.

Despite the significant effort being put forth towards reaching equality, perfection will never be achieved. However, there is always the goal of perfection Vince Lombardi presented to his Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, something that other teams didn’t strive towards at the time. Although Colin Kaepernick might have been out of place in the method in which he protested, he made enough of a stir to get the attention of sports fans, the media, and everyday people so that a greater effort might be put forth towards equality.

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