Has the league really evolved its views about race in America if Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed?
It’s been three years since Colin Kaepernick last took a snap in an NFL game.
Three years since a star quarterback in his prime was blackballed by the league’s most powerful men for daring to use his platform to call for change in America.
Three years since the message he amplified scared thirty-two owners enough to destroy the career of a man who’d taken the San Francisco 49ers to two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl. All because he’d dared to point out that black lives were being lost at the hands of men and women sworn to protect the public.
Silencing Colin Kaepernick three years ago must have seemed like the expedient option as the league looked down the barrel of a divided fan base and the tantrums of a newly elected president who railed publicly against the protests each and every Sunday. But in 2020, as the country wrestles yet again with the horrors of its past, in hopes of a better future for everyone, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took his lead from the players, instead of the owners.
Because it became clear that he had to do so.
In conjunction with an NFL social media employee named Bryndon Minter, several of the league’s players contributed to a now viral video that thrust the NFL into the spotlight of American race relations once more. In the video, Michael Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu, Saquon Barkley, Patrick Mahomes, Deandre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Ezekiel Elliot and many others spoke in no uncertain terms directly to their bosses, making clear what some have tried to call a polarizing and murky issue.
It’s been three years and finally the NFL seems ready to hear what Kaepernick sacrificed his career to voice. At least in part. Promises of financial support have been made. Commitments to allow protest and open, public conversations as well.
Roger Goodell’s statement was as brief as it was conclusive, admitting mistakes and a need to create a new path forward.
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,”
“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter.” -Roger Goodell
How did the league transition from silencing and excommunicating Colin Kaepernick to standing alongside Black Lives Matter protestors?
Perhaps the weight of history was finally too much for a league whose players are overwhelmingly African American. How overwhelmingly? Try 70% or so in any given year. That’s a huge part of the league’s on-field workforce, and their voices, comfortable for the league’s head honchos or not, need to be heard.
Contrary to what conservative pundits would have you believe, there has never been a time when sports and politics were ever really separate. There’s no reason whatsoever to pretend that you can have one without the other. The two are intertwined by personalities large and small, and by the narratives that emerge from the sports world’s biggest stages. From the first Olympics in ancient Greece, held to disrupt near-constant wars, to Cassius Clay changing his name to Muhammad Ali, to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem, it’s been a long unbroken chain of sportsmen and women using their sports not as a diversion from the issues of the day, but as a beacon of light for fans to see.
But if this newly woke league, and its thirty-two teams, can’t find a way to bring thirty-two-year old Colin Kaepernick back to the field, it’s all just lip service. Like the hushed-up grievance settlement. Like the workout that became a farce as the league tried to micromanage the proceedings to ensure the outcome they wanted.
If you look around the interwebs you’ll see a few articles about “Teams where Kaepernick might fit…” which is great and all. We’ve heard Baltimore, Seattle, New England, Jacksonville, L.A., amongst others… sure, sure.
But it’s nonsense.
I’m going to say this one more time.
Kaepernick is a fit for every single one of the NFL’s thirty-two teams. Because he’s better than literally every backup quarterback that’s on a roster currently. There is not a second or third stringer that would give their team a better chance to win on Sunday than Kaepernick. Full stop. Sorry, not sorry.
Fun fact. Kaepernick has the fourth-lowest interception percentage of any quarterback to ever play the game at 1.8% per Pro Football Reference. Fourth. Out of every quarterback to ever lace up spikes. He’s also sixth all-time in TD-INT ratio. Just ahead of some guy named (checks list) Drew Brees. Anybody heard of him?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m elated that Roger Goodell is saying the right things at long last. But I’m waiting with bated breath to see if he and the teams that make up the league DO the right thing.
Because until they admit the mistake AND correct it, it’s all just empty posturing.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.
Image Source: AP Images