During this football off-season, Colin Kaepernick has tried to avoid controversy and public discourse. He’s aware that if he wants to be an NFL starting quarterback – or even a No. 2 – he cannot be the sport’s No. 1 Distraction.
He spent the 2016 season protesting the shooting of too many black Americans by policemen of all colors but primarily white. Kaepernick started out by sitting during the playing of the national anthem.
When he was lambasted by media, social and otherwise, for showing disrespect to the American flag – and by extension, those who carried it into battle – he changed his posture. He kneeled respectfully, and did so until the end of the season.
When it ended, Kaepernick said he had made his point, time to move on. Henceforth he will stand for the anthem.
Which caused some to wonder what else he stands for now that he’s desperately seeking a job. The San Francisco 49ers, where he sat, kneeled and actually played fairly well, told him he was no longer needed.
They preferred to go with Brian Hoyer, who was Jake Cutler’s backup after being dumped by the Houston Texans because they considered Brock Osweiler to be an upgrade.
Kaepernick could see his stock was lower than Radio Shack. He must do nothing to offend a fan base besides throw an occasional interception, and last season he threw only four.
So now he’s accused of hypocrisy, relaxing the grip on his principles while scouting for greener pastures. He has become the ultimate political football, batted from the left almost as much as from the right.
Pat McAfee, recently retired Pro Bowl punter, compared the NFL’s snub of Kaepernick to the exile of Tim Tebow, who quarterbacked the Denver Broncos to a 29-23 victory over Pittsburgh in the 2012 playoffs but couldn’t secure employment subsequently.
Appearing on Pro Football Talk (NBC Sports), McAfee said the athlete who kneels for the anthem is no less popular with NFL owners than the one who kneels after touchdowns, as a religious ritual.
McAfee said of Kaepernick: “Is he getting blackballed? Probably. But it’s a big distraction you don’t want to bring to your team. It’s hard enough to win in the NFL without it. . . . No backup quarterback should be bringing this much pub.”
CBS analyst Chris Simms correctly noted that “most NFL owners are far-right conservatives.”
But McAfee argued, also correctly, that the NFL abhors extremism from the right almost as much as from the left. “It’s just like Tim Tebow. Nobody wants to make the comparison, because it’s almost a polar opposite situation. One’s a lefty, one’s a righty.”
He said owners are wary of one for being “a super-God guy” and “the other because he took a knee, which is freedom of speech in America.”
Where Kaepernick, who is biracial, made a difficult situation worse was by wearing socks that caricatured cops as pigs. Also, by not showing up for a promised appearance at a church of predominantly black membership. Then he put himself on the wrong side of the citizenship debate when he announced he wasn’t voting. What sort of role model is he trying to be?
When he wasn’t criticized for what he was saying, he was faulted by media outlets, including this one, for not speaking to media. By showing his public relations skills, he perhaps could reassure the skittish NFL owners.
But Deadspin’s Drew Magary may be right that it’s too late for Kaepernick to redefine himself. On PFT, Magary said, “No, he’s already talked. And he’s said things that . . . undermined his causes. Like, he didn’t vote.
“The more he talks, it’s ‘Oh, he likes to talk now, doesn’t he? He’s not talking football.’”
This week Kaepernick did what the most powerful Americans do when they have something important to say. He tweeted.
One of his tweets compared the police to “runaway slave patrols.”
His latest outburst was triggered by a jury in Minnesota acquitting a policeman charged with manslaughter after he shot a 32-year-old African-American during a traffic stop last July.
The officer, Jeronimo Yanez, said he pulled over Philando Castile and his girlfriend because they looked like a couple of burglary suspects.
Rule of the road in America: When in doubt, shoot.
Yanez thought Castile was reaching for his gun (which he had told the officer he had), instead of his wallet, which was what he actually was trying to produce.
Apparently Castile had an unfortunate habit of looking like a criminal. NPR reported that he was stopped by police 46 times during his brief life.
Even before Kaepernick’s latest political statement, Magary said “his career is over. I don’t think anyone will go after him regardless of what happens to other quarterbacks.”
How could Kaepernick’s exile be football-related? Is he not one of the 64 best quarterbacks in the NFL?
Said Magary: “A team like the Jets or Cleveland? I mean, get outta here, give me a break. . . . The NFL is talking like he isn’t fit to be a scrub . . . a guy who beat Green Bay at Lambeau in a playoff game.”