As Colin Kaepernick has lingered unsigned for months and months, with undeniably inferior quarterbacks signing contracts across the league, a common explanation has popped up, inside and outside of the NFL. Kaepernick, the argument goes, doesn’t really want to play football anymore. We’ve heard it from anonymous 49ers staffers, from prominent reporters, from conservative media and from a legion of regular people who don’t want to believe Kaepernick is being shunned (even as Jay Cutler reluctantly came out of retirement, all but admitting his heart wasn’t in it). Kaepernick’s silence throughout much of 2017 has only allowed the speculation to fester.
Well, Kaepernick has spoken, telling New York Daily News columnist (and civil rights activist) Shaun King that he emphatically wants to play in the NFL again.
I asked Colin, "Do you want to play football?"
His answer: An emphatic "Yes. I've never stopped. I'm ready right now. Working out daily." https://t.co/5UF9wnLaGT
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) September 17, 2017
So now what, NFL GMs and Kaepernick-hating Twitter trolls? You have heard from the man. He wants to play, has always wanted to play and is doing what he can to prepare himself to play. What’s preventing him from landing an NFL job is not his own indecision. It’s the league’s cowardly refusal to sign him.
You won’t get far arguing that Kaepernick isn’t good enough. He ended last season as a starter. He threw 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He ranked 26th in the NFL in completion percentage, 24th in yards per attempt, 17th in quarterback rating and 23rd in QBR. He’s not a star, but he’s clearly an NFL-caliber player. A FiveThirtyEight analysis found that players with his profile almost always find a home. You can argue all day that Kaepernick simply isn’t good enough to play in the NFL, but every available metric contradicts that point. When Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit listed 15 backup quarterbacks supposedly better than Kaepernick, he was promptly shut down by empirical evidence.
Let’s just be honest about this. We know Kaepernick is better than Austin Davis and E.J. Manuel and Nathan Peterman and Kellen Clemens and so many other quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters. We know it’s possible to keep a dual-threat QB as a backup. And we know Kaepernick wants to play again. Even if you doubt (based on little evidence) that the former NFC champion QB would willingly be a reserve, there are plenty of spots where he could at least compete for a starting role. There is truly only one explanation that passes even the most basic of sniff tests: Kaepernick’s activism is keeping him unemployed.
Now maybe you think it’s fine that Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem has cost him a place in the NFL. You think his activism will be a distraction for any franchise that signs him and that he’s not worth the trouble. Or you think his presence will polarize his new team’s locker room. Or that the home fans (well, the white ones) will revolt. You think that the NFL can make room for the “distractions” that follow domestic abusers and alleged rapists, racists and bigots but not the ones that come with an anti-police brutality activist. At least you’re being transparent.
But let’s please dispense with the easily disprovable notion that some football-related factor is keeping Colin Kaepernick jobless. He is jobless because NFL owners and general managers are mad at him. They are mad at him for violating norms of patriotism they have been taught since they were children. They are mad at him for bringing attention to issues they would rather not think about. They are mad at him for forcing them to answer questions they would prefer to avoid. They are mad at him for dragging “politics” into the NFL, as if oppression were a political issue and as if it that oppression didn’t interact with sports anyway. And they are mad at him for making them and their league seem complicit in America’s greatest sin.
Colin Kaepernick wants to play in the NFL. He is good enough to play in the NFL. The only thinking keeping him from doing so is the stubbornness, petulance and cowardice of the league’s decision-makers.