Editorial: The saga of Colin Kaepernick

  • Supporters of unsigned NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick arrive for a rally on Wednesday near NFL headquarters in New York. AP

Friday, August 25, 2017

Last year, beginning in the NFL’s preseason, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. With the new season set to begin in two weeks, Kaepernick is without a team.

Those two facts hardly seem unrelated.

On Wednesday, more than 1,000 people gathered outside NFL headquarters in Manhattan to call attention to what they believe is the league-wide blackballing of a talented young quarterback. “The NFL has proven with their treatment of Colin Kaepernick that they do not mind if black players get a concussion,” the Rev. Jamal Bryant said during the rally. “They just got a problem if black players get a conscience.”

Not everybody sees it that way, including some of Kaepernick’s peers. LeSean McCoy, a running back for the Buffalo Bills, said: “It’s a lot more than just he’s not on the team because he doesn’t want to stand for the national anthem. That may have something to do with it, but I think also it has a lot to do with his play. I’m sure a lot of teams wouldn’t want him as their starting quarterback. That chaos that comes along with it, it’s a lot.”

As is often the case, the truth is most likely somewhere in the middle. Kaepernick is a good enough player to be on a roster somewhere, especially with the frequency of quarterback injuries, so it seems likely his unemployment is directly related to his season-long protest. But from the perspective of an NFL owner, he isn’t good enough to compensate for the distraction.

We hope Kaepernick finds his way onto a roster. We hope everybody is given an opportunity to do what they love and keep doing it as long as they are physically able. But we also acknowledge that if there was no price to pay for standing up for what you believe in, everybody would do it. When Kaepernick took a knee for the first time last August, he had to know there would be repercussions. He did it anyway, and that was a brave thing to do.

And we also understand why some people are offended by Kaepernick’s actions. How can somebody enjoy all the benefits of living in this country, especially a well-paid professional athlete, without expressing occasional gratitude to all who fought and died in American wars? It’s not a lot to ask.

Those divergent perceptions are not political; they represent how different the American experience is for each person depending on race, economic status, gender, etc. There is one America on the map but many Americas on the streets.

The big question for Kaepernick is: Was it all worth it?

We can’t answer for him, but we would like to say yes. We would like to say that when he took a knee, and other athletes followed – male and female, black and white – America began a sincere and productive dialogue about racial inequality and police brutality that continues to this day.

Clearly, that hasn’t happened.

Instead, people are talking about Kaepernick the football player and whether the NFL and its owners – who care about money above all else – are preventing him from playing because he took a stand.

That’s what happens to important discussions in America, the land of distraction.