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Chances are, you’ve clicked on this article with a pre-formed opinion on Colin Kaepernick, an opinion I’m unlikely to change, so I’m not going to attempt to do so.
The reason I’ve written this article is twofold. The first is to explain the main reason why I think Kaepernick is currently out of the NFL. Chances are, it’s a midway point between the two most popular arguments you’ve heard.
The second is to offer some wisdom on Kaepernick’s protest itself. It’s not a positive or negative opinion; it’s just an opinion.
So, why is Kaepernick currently in the stands? First, let’s get one thing clear. Any given general manager/team owner’s reason may differ from the reason I’ve offered.
However, at the heart of the matter, I think most team’s rationalisation will stem from this reason – and just because I’m explaining it, does not mean I endorse or agree with it.
- Is it to do with his protests? In part, yes.
When Kaepernick chose to protest by kneeling for the national anthem in August 2016 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, he chose to differ himself from every other backup quarterback in the League.
It was a bold stance, and as has been said numerous times since, a backup quarterback drawing attention to anything other than his play is typically not viewed favourably by NFL front offices.
With Kaepernick so bravely choosing to protest such a divisive and sensitive issue, it is an even more dangerous career move.
The reaction to Kaepernick’s protest was as expected. He received legions of support and opposition, commonly divided along racial lines.
However, while Kaepernick’s social stock was wildly fluctuating, his football stock was heading downwards.
Despite starting to be key-holed as a system quarterback, the hate for Kaepernick’s protest was starting to take hold in a way the love was not.
Former League MVP Boomer Esiason labeled Kaepernick’s actions, “an embarrassment”, and according to Mike Freeman via Bleacher Report, an anonymous NFL executive called him “a traitor”.
New York Giants owner John Mara perhaps best described the heightened emotion from the anti-Kaepernick side to Sports Illustrated’s MMQB.
"All my years in the League, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara said.
Describing some of the messages he received, Mara said, “if any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game.”
“It wasn't one or two letters. It was a lot. It's an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I've run into."
Sentiments like this from around the NFL saw what remaining stock Kaepernick had as a footballing asset plummet.
Maybe the stadiums would’ve been full regardless. Maybe Kaepernick’s fans in the city whose team signed him would’ve supplemented the “stay away” counter-protest. We may never know now.
To back this up, League ratings were down. Many linked this to Kaepernick’s protest. Perhaps owners took notice of this also, and did not want it to spread to their stands.
Either way, it didn’t matter. All the owners knew was, they were receiving a lot of emotional pushback from fans claiming Kaepernick’s arrival on their team would mean the end of their fandom.
When bad mail like this gets hold, it spreads like wildfire. See the case of Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon’s situation is different entirely, given he has a misdemeanor assault charge to his name, but similarly, he plummeted from a projected early first-round pick to a mid-late second-round pick due to character concerns.
One wonders just how much damage was done to Mixon’s stock by Robert Kraft, the highly influential owner of the New England Patriots.
“While I believe in second chances and giving players an opportunity for redemption, I also believe that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right,” Kraft told the Boston Herald.
“For me, personally, I believe that privilege is lost for men who have a history of abusing women.”
When Kraft talks, people listen. Lots of teams around the League would have been influenced by the view of him and his team.
NJ.com added fuel to the fire, claiming some teams had removed Mixon from their draft board entirely. Right now, that’s happening to Kaepernick.
NFL teams are businesses, and businesses will do anything they can to drive sales, and prevent plummeting sales.
For most NFL owners and general managers, this is too easy. Kaepernick’s talent level is simply not high enough to bother with the baggage he brings, which may or may not include masses of empty seats and lost fans.
Unfortunately for Kaepernick, it’s a simple as that.
However, could it be his unemployment is helping his protest?
Of course, Kaepernick would love to still be playing football. His recent work ethic has received positive press, even if it hasn’t in the past.
However, were he signed before the start of the season, would this issue have received the national attention it did after Donald Trump urged NFL owners to fire any employees who refused to stand for the anthem?
If not, those quotes would not have prompted almost an entire sporting league to unify in protest of the maligned leader of the United States.
Without those protests, it would also not have spread to other sporting leagues, including the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, and MLB with Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell.
If Kaepernick had been signed at the start of the offseason, would his protest have received any more attention at all?
He had already pledged not to kneel or sit for the 2017-18 season, perhaps when he sensed his job was on the line, as some suggested.
Maybe Kaepernick’s unemployment was what his cause really needed.
After all, those throughout history who have sought to make a truly landmark protest have not been able to do so without paying a supreme price.
Perhaps this is the price Kaepernick is paying to make his: the loss of not just his job, but a dream he had held since he was a young boy – one of the greatest privileges in the sports world.
It is a supreme price, but Kaepernick has paid it, and as a result, his protest is truly a landmark one.
As echoed by Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, I too believe it is time to stop the now almost empty protests, and start the discussion Kaepernick wants us all to have.