Feinstein: Kaepernick Did Nothing Wrong; Owner Backlash Hypocritical

News item from Monday: The Seattle Seahawks, after considering the possibility of signing Colin Kaepernick to back up Russell Wilson, announced that they have signed Austin Davis instead.

Yes, THE Austin Davis, the same guy who didn’t take a single NFL snap in 2016. Wilson better not get hurt.

Another news item from Monday: ESPN/ABC is bringing Hank Williams Jr. back to sing an updated version of his “iconic,” – not my word – “Are you ready for some football?” song that introduced Monday Night Football for many years.

In case you’d forgotten, the reason the song was removed from the MNF introduction in 2011 was because Williams compared President Barack Obama to Hitler. In making the announcement, someone from ESPN said the network expected some backlash but was “not concerned.”

If you don’t see irony in these two announcements coming on the same day then you aren’t paying attention. If nothing else, they are yet another reminder of just how polarized the country is right now.

Undoubtedly, there are still some people out there who are going to insist that Kaepernick not having a job is strictly a football issue. It’s not. Give Giants owner John Mara credit for at least being semi-honest a couple of weeks ago when he admitted that he and other owners were concerned about fan backlash if they signed Kaepernick in the wake of his national-anthem protests last season.

I believe Mara. We live in a world where staging a legal protest – for whatever reason –causes many people to scream the old “Love it or leave it!” cliché, but beating up a woman is viewed as a mistake someone should be forgiven for, especially if they can really play.

Players with talent are given ‘second chances,’ not to mention third, fourth and fifth chances – if a team believes they can help them win games. I’m a believer in second chances, especially if someone pays their debt to society and says he’s sorry.

Michael Vick went to jail and came back to play in the NFL. There were protests and there was backlash but he played well and most people forgave him for the awful things he and his friends did to dogs. Greg Hardy stayed out of jail – on a technicality – and was not only signed by the Cowboys but was, at one point, called “a leader of men” by owner Jerry Jones. Joe Mixon, who was seen on video beating up a woman was suspended for a season by Oklahoma. He came back to play last season and was taken in the second round of April’s draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

There will be backlash, but it will quiet down quickly if Mixon can help the Bengals make the playoffs.

To me, hitting a woman is one of the most disgusting acts anyone can commit. But our country is built on second chances, isn’t it?

So why can’t Colin Kaepernick get a chance to play in a second NFL city? Note that I didn’t say a second chance. That implies that he did something wrong. He did something that many people disagree with; that angered many people; but he didn’t do anything WRONG. He didn’t break the law and his stated goal – to start a dialogue on the issue of police brutality directed at African Americans – was accomplished. Some of that dialogue was shouted and a good deal of it was profane, but it happened. Kaepernick met with members of the military to let them know he was NOT in any way trying to demean them or the work they do to protect all of us, and a lot of them supported his stance.

And now, he can’t get a job even though he is better than many quarterbacks signed this offseason, both statistically and in reality. Pete Carroll, the Seahawks coach, said that Kaepernick could still be an NFL starter. Then he signed Austin Davis. Do you think there was some pressure from the higher-ups in Seattle or from other owners or the league to not sign Kaepernick? I do.

You see, in a country that prides itself on our freedoms – including freedom of speech –there are many, many people who only want those freedoms to exist hypothetically, but not in reality. Those of us who write and talk about sports for a living are often told, “Stay away from politics,” when we write or say something that people disagree with.

When I write, as I do each year, about how much I respect those who play football at Army and Navy because what they are going to do when they graduate is so much more important and so much more difficult than what most athletes at civilian schools are going to do, I never hear a discouraging word. But that IS writing about politics, about pointing out the importance of the military and showing respect for those who serve.

But if I also write that Kaepernick – and others – have the right to not stand for the anthem? Uh-oh, I’m getting into politics where I don’t belong.

Kaepernick is being treated by the NFL as if he committed a crime that can’t be forgiven when, in truth, he’s committed no crime at all – except the crime of doing something that makes many people angry. Beating up a woman; cheating by taking PEDs; driving under the influence – all are considered ultimately forgiveable. Daring to say our country isn’t perfect, that’s unforgiveable.

Comparing a President to Hitler is also apparently forgiveable. Like Kaepernick, Williams broke no law, although invoking Hitler’s name is, to most people, at the very least an unwritten rule. To disagree with someone’s policies is one thing; to compare him (or her) to arguably the worst person in history is way over the line.

It is entirely possible that ESPN’s decision to bring Williams back has something to do with the outpouring of, “Serves those liberals right!” tweets and comments made in the wake of the network’s recent layoffs. Perhaps ESPN thinks Williams coming back will bring more viewers to the Monday night table, but I suspect most of those people are already watching.

No one has ever accused ESPN of having a conscience. It would interest me to know what Obama – a huge ESPN fan – thinks about this decision.

But that’s not the point.

The point is there are a lot of people out there who were thrilled with both things that happened on Monday: the non-hiring of Kaepernick and the re-hiring of Williams. Because to them, a man who doesn’t stand for the anthem because he is trying to create a dialogue about a polarizing issue should never ever be “forgiven” for his act. At the same time another man who likened a President to Hitler is “forgiven.” Or, sadly, in some places, applauded.

Riddle me this: If a liberal entertainer – and there are plenty of them – ever likened Donald Trump to Hitler, how would those people react?

Don’t bother answering. The question was rhetorical.

John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, “The Legends Club—Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and The Story of an Epic College Basketball Rivalry,” has spent almost eight months on the New York Times hard cover and paperback bestseller lists. His new book, “The First Major,–Inside the 2016 Ryder Cup,” is available for pre-sale now. His mystery, ‘Last Shot,’ won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery writing in the Young Adult category and his new YA mystery—‘Backfield Boys,’ is also available for pre-sale now.

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