The Conundrum Of Colin Kaepernick

Phil Rossi

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Colin KaepernickNew York Post

Is the beleaguered athlete a victim, a pariah, or an obsolete quarterback?

Following the George Floyd tragedy and BLM marches, the plight of Colin Kaepernick returned to the sports and cultural spotlight. Since the Jacob Blake incident and recent boycotts by pro athletes, hope resurfaced that Kaepernick could enjoy his great comeback to the NFL.

As NFL training camps are ramping up for the 2021 season, Kaepernick’s chances of returning to the NFL have continued to dim. The optimism fading as all 32 teams begin finalizing their rosters for the incoming season, months away.

It is believed that Colin wants to play pro football, yet Kaepernick hasn’t announced it either way. Outside the Nike campaigns, Kaepernick has remained mum and mysterious about his intentions and aspirations.

Calls for NFL teams to ‘man up’ and sign Kaepernick have fallen on deaf ears. From the pulpits of sports radio, cable news, and various podcasts, the chorus for a Kaepernick comeback has intensified. At this juncture, not one of the league’s 32 teams has invited Kaepernick to audition.

There are teams that could use Kaepernick, or at least give him a shot. Despite his inactivity and the window on his career closing, Kaepernick could compete for a roster spot. A backup who is mobile with a winning history is an attractive option. Especially with the high injury rates to starting quarterbacks.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken publicly about Colin Kaepernick’s situation. Most notably, Kaepernick’s initial protest of kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games began this firestorm in the first place.

Despite Goodell’s public apology on behalf of the NFL, not one league owner joined the commissioner or issued a supportive statement. What Goodell also failed to discuss was Kaepernick’s legal action and lawsuit against the NFL.

In the suit, Kaepernick alleged the NFL had conspired and colluded to ban him from the league. At the end of the 2016 season, Kaepernick was released by the San Francisco 49ers and became an unrestricted free agent.

In the midst of the fallout and his free agency, Kaepernick became persona non grata. An open secret and unspoken truth that Colin Kaepernick had overstayed his welcome and thus be blackballed by the NFL.

After winning the summary phase of his lawsuit, Kaepernick agreed to withdraw his collusion case against the NFL and accept a cash settlement.

It’s believed Kaepernick was awarded between 5 and 7 million, less legal fees. The actual numbers are unknown, due to a non-disclosure agreement between Kaepernick and the NFL.

Dissolving the lawsuit and awarding Kaepernick payment is the NFL’s nature of resolving the matter on league terms. To the NFL, it’s not about the money or an admission of guilt.

From the league’s standpoint, it’s an investment in the future and the ability to maintain control. Whether it’s an admission of wrong-doing by the owners or damages and lost salary to Kaepernick, it’s a win-win for the NFL.

It’s the NFL that remains in control of the situation and not Kaepernick. Despite Kaepernick’s public support, the cash settlement compromises his status. Kaepernick might remain a media and cultural icon, but inside the NFL, he’s another out-of-work player at the mercy of the owners.

There could be lingering resentment among the league’s owners towards Kaepernick. During Colin’s tenure in the NFL and subsequent protests, season ticket holders let it be known how they felt about football players taking knees during the National Anthem.

The fans are the wildcard in this entire narrative. With full-capacity crowds expected to return this season, the NFL knows it must continue to tread lightly. The paying fans that fit the bill for these million-dollar player contracts are against players protesting the National Anthem.

Every NFL team fielded angry emails letting them know how they felt about it and it wasn’t supportive. We’re talking about folks who not only purchase season-ticket packages but were coaxed into the PSL investment.

These are the fans the owners fear. TV money is already accounted for. It’s up to the networks to sell ad space. Speaking of which, many suffered during the NFL boycotts of half-empty stadiums.

In order to sell space, they were forced to take a hit. In turn, the ones that did purchase felt the public backlash as well. Monday morning phone calls and angry emails threatening to boycott their products — goods associated with anthem protests.

Another angle in this narrative is the essence of competition. Pro sports are and remain a bastion for meritocracy. Anything less, and the sport is tainted. All one needs to do is look at the steroid and other cheating scandals that have bedeviled and plagued pro leagues and individual athletes.

Despite societal climates, the playing field yields the results from the man-on-man competition. Politics, opinions, and beliefs can’t skew the numbers nor should they.

It may sound just and noble to offer Colin Kaepernick a roster spot on an NFL team. If Colin Kaepernick were to be offered a contract on anything less than 100% of his football ability, he wouldn’t sign it.

First and foremost, Kaepernick is an athlete. His ability and performance must earn him a roster spot, not his public persona and social advocacy. If so, it wouldn’t feel legit, because it wouldn’t be.

In professional sports, between the lines are where roster spots are contested. It’s the only place they are won and lost. It’s in the arenas — not the courts, talk show circuits, and social media platforms. Social advocates seem oblivious that stat sheets, scoreboards, and division standings are color blind.

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Colin KaepernickUSA Today

Each season, all 32 NFL teams begin their yearly quest — to win the next Super Bowl. It’s the primary goal of every franchise. NFL rosters are stocked with the best players to achieve this objective.

If any of these teams felt that Kaepernick would give them a better chance to advance further towards the Super Bowl, they would sign him. Despite being 33-years-old, Kaepernick hasn’t competed professionally since the end of the 2016 season.

Again, and in this case, there might be a caveat to even this argument. Kaepernick is certainly more talented, and a better quarterback than some of the backups currently on league rosters.

Another kink is the baggage that would accompany a Kaepernick return. It might be too much for a team to take on and endure. A proverbial hot potato. We’d like to sign him since we think he could help, but is it worth it? Maybe for another franchise, but not ours.

Despite the shift in tone and rise of support, it doesn’t look likely that Kaepernick will be returning to the NFL anytime soon. This is unfortunate since Colin Kaepernick is an exciting talent and exceptional player. Electric and fun to watch.

Coupled with the softened stance on his plight, it would be a great sports story. More importantly, an inspirational one. A transcendent story beyond sports that could help to heal a damaged nation.

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Phil is a blogger interested in sports, culture, politics, and the art scene.

Hackensack, NJ
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