“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’, April 16, 1963
As we near the start of the 2017 NFL season, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still an unsigned free agent. While we cannot factually conclude teams staying away from him is a direct result of his silent protest of the National Anthem last year, the circumstantial evidence certainly points to franchises and owners not wanting his “distraction” in their locker room.
Recently, Kaepernick has received support from various players in the NFL. Derek Carr, Johnny Manziel, Jim Harbaugh (his former coach in San Francisco) and a few others have expressed faith in Kaepernick’s ability to play football. While it is appreciated that some of football’s visible names are making statements to debunk the idea that Kaepernick cannot help a team on the field, it is not enough. It is real support, but there is a passive tone to these blurbs of support because of the negative backlash Kaepernick received for silently protesting the National Anthem last season.
It is too early to say, with concrete evidence, that Kaepernick is not on a NFL roster because of his stance against racial injustice in this country. However, the circumstantial evidence matters. Front offices around the league need to be held accountable for their cowardice.
The most recent example of this concocted trepidation comes from the Baltimore Ravens. With Joe Flacco’s health in question, whispers and rumblings started of them signing a free agent quarterback as an insurance policy. Kaepernick, the best available quarterback not working on being an NFL commentator for network television, appeared to be close to joining the Ravens. Then, Baltimore chose, and they chose to sign an Arena Football League quarterback—and then cut him several days later. Those whispers and rumblings then became laced with rumors of a disconnect between head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome wanting Kaepernick but being thwarted by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. Bisciotti, while speaking at a fan fest event for Ravens season ticket holders, said his team factored in public reaction to Kaepernick—who has stated he will discontinue kneeling, should he be in a roster.
Bisciotti said, answering an inquiry about Kaepernick hurting the team’s image:
“Quantify hurting the brand, I know that we’re going to upset some people, and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did. Non-violent protesting is something that we have all embraced. I don’t like the way he did it. Personally, I kind of liked it a lot when he went from sitting to kneeling. I don’t know, I’m Catholic, we spend a lot of time kneeling.”
While acknowledging Kaepernick’s right to protest is a positive, using a generic statement as a sign of support is weak. This is a similar problem that arises with the handful of players—particularly the white ones—who simply state Kaepernick is good enough to be on a roster. That is common knowledge. That does not take courage. Full support is praising Kaepernick’s ability as well as backing the reason for his protest, not just his right to protest.
The goal is to eliminate the circumstantial evidence surrounding why Kaepernick is getting little consideration to be signed. The season has not started, and there are non-protest-based factors that hinder his attractiveness to front offices. If he’s signed before Week 1 of the regular session, his salary is guaranteed. Though Kaepernick is a person, his signing is a business transaction. Teams will think of finances in relation to ability much more than they will off-field issues.
We must approach the entirety of this subject honestly and directly, even though a lot of the evidence is still circumstantial. Colin Kaepernick, it appears, is being vilified as a criminal when he has been a model character. There are those who love him for his stance. There are those who wrongly dislike him for his stance. The most dangerous group is the one made up of folks with fake moderate beliefs. They’re allowed to sit near midfield while the debate rages on, offering lukewarm opinions like, “Colin Kaepernick can still play football.” If those around football want to advocate for him, then they must align themselves with him as a human being, as well. Separating the football player from the man undermines Kaepernick.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.