Colin Kaepernick is making his choice: Activism over the NFL

Dan Wetzel
Columnist

In a flurry of tweets and retweets Monday night, Colin Kaepernick used his sizable social media platform (1.1 million-plus followers) to comment and promote issues concerning police violence involving minorities and the prison-industrial complex, notably the use of inmate labor.

This isn’t new. His Twitter feed is a near daily display of activist messages and arguments. Last weekend he retweeted a couple images that compared modern police officers to slave catchers of the past. To some it was a history lesson. To others who see the many honest and fair members of law enforcement that are trying to build a better future, it was an insult.


Maybe you agree with his posts or maybe you don’t. Maybe they cause you to think about the issue for a second. Maybe you’re bored with anything Kaepernick has to say.

This column isn’t about changing any opinions. You can take it up with Kaepernick. He doesn’t seem to mind the debate.

What Kaepernick hasn’t been tweeting about, or speaking about, or granting interviews about is that he remains an unsigned free agent as NFL training camps creep closer and available jobs are being filled. Kaepernick, who once started in a Super Bowl but is most famous for taking a knee during the national anthem last year, is unemployed.

Colin Kaepernick wears a T-shirt depicting the late Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers and a proponent of African-American militancy in the 1960s. (Getty)

No one says he should replace Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or even be slotted in as a starter. He is undoubtedly better, however, than some of these third-stringers with camp invites.

As team after team passes him by, the obvious conclusion is that his high-profile political stances have made him, in the minds of NFL decision-makers, a liability greater than the perceived value he would bring to the team. Make no mistake, if Kaepernick completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 38 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions last season (MVP Matt Ryan numbers), he could tweet whatever he wanted.

After all, there are plenty of other players who joined him on one knee during the anthem who will be suiting up next season.

When your perceived-negatives outweigh your perceived-positives though, you’re done. This is pretty much how it works in every profession, let alone one as cutthroat as the NFL. Kaepernick completed just 59.2 percent of his passes while starting for a 2-14 team. He’s a back-up at this point. So here we are.

Yet he doesn’t seem to care … or at least care enough to change his behavior in an effort to ease fears from clearly skittish teams who tend to like quiet, compliant back-ups. The simplest advice for Kaepernick if he wants to play in the NFL next season is to just be quiet.

He won’t be quiet. He won’t back down.

Whether you agree with his stances, disagree with his stances or find some reasonable and some not, it’s worth offering at least a nod of respect for a guy willing to risk so much for what he believes in.

On this, he is putting his money where his mouth is.

(This is in addition to what his website claims is already $700,000 in donations – out of a pledged $1 million – to “organizations in oppressed communities.” Each donation, most to grassroots organizations, is carefully noted.)

If you look at the website kaepernick7.com, other than the jersey number in the domain name, there is very little acknowledgement that he is even a football player – it’s all about his foundation and its “Know Your Rights” campaign. There are links to pro-Kaepernick sports columns under “media,” but that’s about it.

And he’s yet to come out and complain or even comment about how his NFL job hunt is going.

“He is a starter in this league and I can’t imagine somebody won’t give him a chance to play,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said earlier this offseason.

Carroll is wrong; it’s pretty easy to imagine that no team will give Kaepernick a chance to play. NFL coaches dread so-called “distractions” and Kaepernick is clearly considered one of those. For different reasons, so are Tim Tebow or Johnny Manziel, although neither of them ever led a team to the Super Bowl.

To say politics isn’t a factor here for at least some teams, though, is disingenuous. You can blame the teams for this or you can agree with it. That’s reality, and Kaepernick is very well aware of that fact.

When he chose to make a political statement by sitting, and later kneeling for the national anthem, he knew that he was creating a major stir. His handling of the attention wasn’t always smooth – he was willing to speak at length and with great passion about his positions and how it did or didn’t effect the San Francisco locker room, but he also struggled with details at times and famously decided to skip out on voting (even for ballot initiatives) last November. Becoming a national activist isn’t easy.

Whatever, he decided to try and so he tried. He decided this was important to him, so he made it important to him. He decided that he couldn’t be silent about what he believes, so he spoke out, presumably well aware of the potential repercussions, like being out of the league at age 29.

And now, faced with reality, he hasn’t changed his course at all. He’s Colin Kaepernick, take him or leave him.

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