Colin Kaepernick is looking for a job. The President of the United States is gleefully telling people he’s the reason no one has hired him yet.
To paraphrase Sports Illustrated: If the apocalypse is not upon us, it’s rapidly closing in.
Everyone knows the back story: Kaepernick, who led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in February of 2013 as their quarterback, has been a shadow of that player for most of the last three seasons. Last fall he was actually benched for a while in favor of the immortal Blaine Gabbert.
This is not an uncommon malady in the NFL. Robert Griffin III, who looked like a Hall of Famer as a rookie in Washington in that same 2012 season, is again looking for work this offseason, his career-path changed forever by injuries and hubris.
Someone will sign Griffin. He’s still only 27-years-old and, at worst, he’s good enough to be someone’s backup. Quarterbacks are like left-handed relief pitchers—as long as they can stand up straight, someone will give them a job. Josh McCown, who will be 38 in July, just signed a contract to play for the New York Jets this season for a guaranteed $6 million. The Jets will be his 10th NFL team. That doesn’t count a stint in 2010 with the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League.
But it’s possible Kaepernick won’t find work even though his resume as a quarterback is much more impressive than many quarterbacks who will be on NFL rosters this fall. Part of the reason—according to Bleacher Report—may be President Donald Trump.
The website’s Mike Freeman recently quoted an un-named NFL executive (I sometimes wonder if any of them actually have names since they all constantly hide behind anonymity) as saying that teams may shy away from signing Kaepernick because of backlash from their fans and, “because Donald Trump may tweet about it.”
This, of course, is in reference to Kaepernick’s decision last summer to first sit and then, later, kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to 49ers games. At the time, Kaepernick said he was extremely upset with the way many white police officers were treating African-Americans and other minorities and that was why he had decided not to stand.
Kaepernick’s decision to stand up by sitting down became a hugely polarizing issue, not just in football, but in the entire country.
Predictably, there were the usual shouts of, ‘if you don’t like your country, then go someplace else.’ There were also people who said Kaepernick had an absolute right not to stand but thought this was not the right way to protest. Others supported both his right to protest and his method of protest. A number of other athletes—in football and other sports—joined him.
What was perhaps most fascinating were the number of people in the military—both still serving and retired—who supported Kaepernick. It had nothing to do with whether they agreed with him or not but with the fact that they had fought overseas to protect the freedom that allowed him to protest—regardless of the issue.
Their point was simple: not liking something going on in your country doesn’t mean you have to leave it if you choose not to be silent.
Kaepernick said his goal was to open a dialogue. He did exactly that—even if some resorted to shouting and name-calling.
Trump, and most of his supporters, were among those saying that Kaepernick should, “find a new country.”
Kaepernick’s still here but he does need to find a new team. He has already told people he will stand for the anthem this season, that he’s made his point. He also needs a job.
It may be his lack of a new deal has strictly to do with questions about his ability to play quarterback. That’s not likely though given that he’s 29 and actually played decently when he got his starting job back last season.
Trump is right when he says his twitter-presence may be intimidating owners. There is no entity in sports that is more image-conscious or waves the flag more than the NFL. Most NFL owners are a lot closer to Trump politically than they are to Kaepernick—or Hillary Clinton for that matter.
They know there will be fan backlash if they sign Kaepernick—at least until he wins a few games for their team. Then it’s likely to quiet down quickly. Less likely is that the President will quiet down. He tweets constantly—not always accurately, but constantly—and would almost certainly unleash some angry words directed at any owner or general manager who signs Kaepernick.
That shouldn’t be the case. General managers should be allowed to make football decisions without interference from owners, the team in Washington being the best example of what happens when owners meddle for any reason.
But that won’t be the case with Kaepernick. No GM is signing him without approval from his owner and it’s going to take an owner with some guts to say, ‘do it,’ because there’s no doubt there will be backlash.
People in the media are comparing Kaepernick’s situation to Ray Rice. That’s blatently unfair. Kaepernick didn’t beat up a woman and, if Rice hadn’t clearly lost a step prior to the incident that cost him his career, he’d have been signed by someone about 15 minutes after his suspension was lifted.
There is another important difference. One could easily say that Rice deserved another chance after paying the price for his mistake—as with anyone—but could not make the argument that he did nothing wrong.
Unless you believe that the first amendment should be repealed (and I know there are those who ardently believe that) you can’t say Kaepernick did something wrong. You can say you disagree with him, but you can’t legitimately claim he did anything wrong anymore than he can claim that you are wrong for standing. (For the record, I always stand even though I frequently disagree with what’s going on in our country).
If Kaepernick isn’t signed, there’s going to be a hue and cry about it. Already Spike Lee, a lifelong Jets fan, has responded to the McCown signing by saying on Instagram that Kaepernick not being signed, “sounds mad fishy to me.”
As time goes on, there will be more voices like Lee’s and they will get louder. I sincerely hope that some of those voices are white so this doesn’t become yet another racial issue. I do believe that a white quarterback who had staged the same protest as Kaepernick would be facing the same backlash right now, but the fact that he’s an African-American who was standing up for minorities, makes it more glaring. So does the fact that there are no African-American NFL owners.
The real shame is that the issue is so polarizing. There is nothing wrong with people disagreeing, in fact, it’s part of our country’s heritage. Now though, we’re so polarized and people are so angry, it’s literally scary.
Tip O’Neill, the late Speaker of the House of Representatives, used to tell a story about a freshman congressmen saying to him, “Mr. Speaker, how are we going to deal with the enemy this session?”
O’Neill looked at him and said, “Who is the enemy son?”
“Why, the Republicans, of course.”
O’Neill shook his head and said, “The Republicans aren’t the enemy. The SENATE is the enemy.”
That was back when members of the two parties often co-authored legislation. Now, it appears there’s no gray in politics anymore, no crossover.
Everything is black and white. Which, sadly, may be the issue when it comes to Colin Kaepernick.
John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, “The Legends Club—Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry,”—is now out in paperback after six months on the New York Times bestseller list in hardcover. His most recent kids mystery is, “The DH.” He won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for mystery writing in the Young Adult Category for, “Last Shot—Mystery at the Final Four.”