On Colin Kaepernick’s Place In The NFL

Sorting Through The League’s Priorities: Business, Public Relations, What’s Right and Wrong

Colin Kaepernick deserves to have a job in the National Football League.

If not for his glimpses of excellence in leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl and NFC Championship game in back to back years, then for his performance more recently, just last season — where he produced a 16/4 touchdown to interception ratio, the second highest touchdown percentage and the lowest interception percentage of his career.

To say Kaepernick has lost a step under center since those electrifying playoff runs is a fair assessment, but paints an entirely incomplete picture when trying to understand why he’s without an NFL team. Kaepernick remains on the market, while plenty of low-level throwers have found homes for themselves. The reason is becoming plainly obvious.

I could list off 15–20 names of rostered NFL quarterbacks who I consider worse than Kaepernick at playing the position, but I’ll just try to name a few that could be week one starters: Blake Bortles, Josh McCown, Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage… Just four names, not to mention Kapernick’s former teammate Blaine Gabbert, who was signed by the Arizona Cardinals to compete for the back-up role.

And while there’s an argument to be made about Kaepernick’s credibility as a starter in the league, what’s more curious is that there haven’t been any serious contract talks between Kaepernick and an NFL team, according to Tim Kawakami. It’s not even that he’s waiting around for a starting role, but no team hasn’t even reached out to bring him in as a clipboard holder.

On the eye test alone, the aformentioned projected starting quarterbacks in the league this year tells us Kaepernick is good enough to warrant a roster spot. His “antics,” and choosing to kneel during the national anthem, are what seem to be keeping him a free agent. What this tells me is that the league owners and their front office people have their priorities all out of whack.

The NFL is a business after all, and what league execs are telling us by staying away from Kaepernick is that they don’t feel bringing him in will be beneficial to their bottom line. The issue is not with the teams that have their quarterback depth chart set, but with those who could clearly improve from Kaepernick’s presence and choose to ignore him to avoid the potential distraction that his spot in the locker room might bring about. The distraction that permeates this discussion is essentially free speech. Many were offended when Kaepernick did not stand for the national anthem, and that may have escalated to a point of no return.

The first argument you’ll hear is that Kaepernick is bad for business. If fans are outraged by having him on the team, ticket sales, merchandise, advertisements and the rest could be impacted. That may well be true, but when you take a look at the number of criminals that have no problem securing a roster spot, you come to understand that the NFL and many of its consumers have it all backwards. We (as the collective NFL fan) are typically quick to forgive players who committ acts of violence or crimes, as long as they perform on the field. As I mentioned previously, Kaepernick hasn’t turned heads on the field over the last few seasons, but he is being treated as if he is the real criminal. For what? A silent protest, pointing out real flaws with our country? That’s not right.

Tony Dungy compared the conversations front office people have about Kaepernick to those about Vick after he was imprisoned for his participation in dog fighting. Dungy, an NFL lifer, may be representative of the kinds of views held by those around the league. Such a view, juxtaposing a criminal and someone who took a knee is a microcosm of the ignorance that often pervades the league.

Another issue is public relations, where I could go down several different paths. We now exist in a world where it’s better public relations to have criminals on your football team than peaceful protesters. Better to have wife beaters than inquisitive citizens. If you take Colin Kaepernick for who he actually is — someone who’s charitable donations and acts of goodness in the community have had immense positive impacts — he could really only affect public relations in a favorable way. The worst case scenario? Wall to wall coverage of your football team, which probably increases the brand awareness for whatever franchise brings Kaepernick in.

At some point will there be a discussion of right and wrong? I understand that on the surface, this talk revolves around a game with a ball being thrown around, but at some point there has to be a team secure enough in their integrity to understand what it means to bring in Colin Kaepernick, and maybe more importantly, what it can mean when you sit idly. Now it’s not some duty, some imperative for teams to sign the guy. Of course it doesn’t make sense for every team to put him on their roster. There shouldn’t be a discussion of a moral obligation, but one of sound logic. To leave him off your roster because of fear of faux outrage is a sad message to send to outsiders looking in on a league that’s reputation is increasingly negative. And perhaps calling the outrage “faux,” could be offensive to some, and I suppose it’s not for me to say what should or shouldn’t offend people, but to think Kapernick’s kneeling could have any real impact on some fan’s life just doesn’t make much sense.

So many sports consumers want to rid sports of politics. This seems increasingly impossible. The discussion circling Kaepernick is basically a partisan one. If you lean left politically, you probably take the side that Kaepernick remains a free agent for his kneeling during the anthem. If you lean right, you justify his lack of a roster spot based on his football skills. There are facts somewhere between the ferns, but too many tend to avoid those. This really comes down to trusting reporters and their sourcing. So many will take their predetermined judgment on the situation and find facts to support it. That’s where the issue lies.

Maybe there are some who truly don’t think Kaepernick is good enough to play football in this league. More likely though, those who could use Kaepernick’s services and choose to ignore him are scared, almost petrified of the attention his signing would bring. They should be more fearful though, of the women, children, families and decent humans who may turn against their teams for signing criminals. However, there’s a real chance that day never comes. Rooting for an NFL team with a law-breaker or jaw-breaker on the roster is almost commonplace. We have to get to a point where rooting for community servants and enlightening citizens is just as common.

If you don’t believe Kaepernick is good enough to play in the NFL, go check the stats again. Look through the list of objective third stringers who occupy roster spots that could be better filled. He can clearly help a football team, whether you choose to believe it or not.

If you are angered by the possibility of a team bringing in Kapernick — a capable quarterback and an exemplary citizen off-the-field — then I suggest finding the nearest mirror and taking a good, long look.