It isn’t common that a random photo taken from the press box at an NFL preseason game sparks a national controversy. But from the moment then-SBNation Bay Area columnist Jennifer Lee Chan snapped the infamous photo, that is exactly what happened.
In the years since polarization and animosity have abounded in both the sports world and politically. Most recently, a poll showed that 52% of Americans support Kaepernick’s protest (the first one in which the majority of Americans were in favor of Kaepernick). Memorably, the NFL announced last year, in the middle of the season, no less, on a Saturday when road teams would be traveling, that they were holding a workout for Colin Kaepernick. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan.
After initial plans for the long-awaited workout fell through, and after all that has gone on between Kaepernick and the league the last four years, there is ample finger-pointing taking place and lots of blame being assigned. Since the workout went awry, there has been a racial reckoning in this country, in large part due to the murder of George Floyd. From a football perspective, with it, has come yet another re-emergence of Kaepernick questions. Could he actually even be signed? And of equal consequence, who will take what is perceived as such a courageous step. In order to put the events of the workout and of the recent racial reckoning into perspective from Kaepernick’s point of view, all that has gone on since Chan’s photo must be placed into proper context.
Before the workout controversy that was Saturday, November 21st, there is a long list of facts, and events, that seem to be overlooked. For example, Kaepernick, in his last year in the NFL (2016), posted a passer rating of 90.7, good for 17th in the NFL that season (contrary to what some, including Ben Shapiro, may have said. He played in 12 games and started 11 of them. According to pro football reference, from 2016 until now, a staggering 84 quarterbacks have started at least one NFL game who’s had a passer rating at 90.6 or below.
As for the myth that he was benched for Blaine Gabbert to start the season? Those who throw that out there, not only have no idea what the hell they're talking about but they also simply neglect to mention the fact that Colin Kaepernick was coming off shoulder surgery, knee surgery, and thumb surgery during the offseason and wasn’t at his playing weight and normal strength at the start of training camp. This left head coach ChipKelly with no choice but to go with Gabbert, despite knowing that Kaepernick was the superior option. Former 49ers beat reporter and current editor and chief of The Athletic Bay Area Tim Kawakami goes into great detail about Kaepernick and the 49ers heading into that season, saying “I wasn’t the only media member in the middle of it, but 95 percent of the people now claiming to know exactly what happened back then weren’t there at all…contrary to one of the great myths of 2016, Kaepernick did not get beat out by Gabbert in training camp. Kelly was very clear about this (Kelly was quoted in September 2016 as saying “Colin Kaepernick is our No.2 QB. I don't think he’s 100% healthy right now so that’s why he’s our No.2.”).
In addition to Kaepernick’s health, other things his critics often leave out when criticizing him is the talent around him, or the lack thereof. According to both Pro Football Focus, and Pro Football Outsiders, perhaps thetwo most famous, trusted, and respected in depth football sites, both ratedthe 49ers as having a bottom five offensive linewhile neither mentioned the 49ers having anywhere close to a top flightreceiver or running back.
Three-time Super Bowl Champion Mark Schlerethsaid that “In 12 years of playing, and 15 years of broadcasting, this isthe worst I have ever seen an offensive line play consistently across thisleague.” The 2016 San Francisco 49ers werealso last in the entire NFL in both points and yards allowed per game on defense. And since 2016, Chip Kelly has not been offered a single job in the NFL. He hasn’t been offered a head coaching job, a coordinator job, or even a job as a position coach.
The one team who did bring Kaepernick in for a workout, the Seattle Seahawks, had their head coach Pete Caroll, who is widely considered to be a Hall of Fame coach, say that Kaepernick was a “starter in this league.” Beyond Kaepernick coming off three surgeries in the offseason prior to the2016 season, he had perhaps the worst roster in the NFL. In order to properly frame and discuss Kaepernick’s on field play, context fairly achieves that.
In addition to his on-field play being criticized and at times misrepresented, Kaepernick’s off field and criticism related criticisms were sometimes mischaracterized as well. The former 49ers quarterback also had and continues to have a number of myths spread about him, and there are several non-football related ones that simply are lacking in substance.
First off, the claims that Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem disrespected all of the militaries ignores four vital things: The person who first suggested that Kaepernick take a knee, was a military veteran himself named Nate Boyer, who served as a Green Beret in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, Eric Reid, who first knelt with him, has three family members in the military (Bruce Maxwell was also the first Major League Baseball player to kneel for the anthem, and his father was in the military as well; the #VeteransForKaepernick also trended worldwide).
Additionally, according to provision/excerpt 176 of theUnited States flag code, while laying the flag horizontally, as the NFL does before every game, or wearing the flag on any type of merchandise (as the NFL does when they sell their merchandise, thus making money off they American flag) is considered to be disrespectful, not standing for the anthem is actually not listed. And suffice it to say, the NFL disrespected the military when they charged the military to honor troops. I personally have not seen the Ben Shapiro’s, or Tomi Lahren of the world get upset about that one bit. Lahren herself disrespected the flag by draping it over her shoulders, something I previously cited the flag code tells you not to do. Again, according to the flag code, wearing the U.S. flag on or as a piece of clothing is strictly prohibited. But back toKaepernick; being that the idea of him kneeling was actually suggested to him by a Navy Seal Green Beret, not to mention all the other military veterans who expressed their support for him, and it seems as though the military was just as divided as the rest of America (which if you want to criticize Kaep, division/polarization would be a fair criticism, even if I partially disagree with it).
As for Kaepernick being a distraction, that simply isn’t backed up by any of the evidence. According to Kawakami himself: “I’ve been involved with alot of circus atmospheres in locker rooms and around teams and that was not one of them. And after a few weeks, even that mostly died down to a small trickle of reporters waiting to talk to Kaepernick. Then Kaepernick replaced Gabbert as the starter in Week 6, so there was another rush of attention; eventually, that calmed down too.”
Kelly: “We heard from the outside about what a distraction it is… Except those people aren't in our locker room and it never was a distraction. And Kaep never brought that and never turned it into a circus ... when you’re not there, it’s easy to speculate on what it’s like, but he is zero distraction.”
Offensive tackle Joe Staley: “I feel the locker room is really close. I don’t feel any of that division people from the outside are saying at all. I wouldn’t need to tell you if there was. I think any kind of division like that is pretty evident. I don’t think that’s going on at all. I don’t see that around this lockerroom at all.”
Tight end Vance McDonald: “At the end of the day, honestly, it probably brought us closer together as a team, as crazy as that sounds. But that’s just the way we feel as a team; that makes sense to us.”
Wide Receiver Torrey Smith: : “Our locker room is probably better than it was… And when you get to learn people’s different perspectives, or even help them learn yours or you learn theirs, it made our team better in a lot of ways. And honestly, it hasn’t been a distraction at all.”
They all dismissed the notion of Kaepernick being a distraction whatsoever. Additionally, another 49ers beat reporter Matt Barrows also added: “But on most weeks, it was a normal-size crowd. And as the season went on and the 49ers got worse and worse – the number of reporters who showed upday to day was actually smaller than usual.”
But did Kaepernick divide the locker room, as many have speculated? Was he damaging to the locker room? In 2016, the quarterback won the Len Eshmontaward, given to the 49ers player who best exemplifies “inspirational and courageous play.” The award is voted on by the 49ers players, and has been given to model NFL citizens like Frank Gore, Navarro Bowman, and Anquan Boldin. If Kaepernick truly was self-centered, looking for attention, and divisive in the locker room, surely his teammates would not have voted him to be the most inspirational and courageous on the roster. His teammates vote of confidence tells you all you need to know what Kaepernick’s teammates thought of him.
As for the notion of Kaepernick doing damage to the NFL’s ratings? Via Sports Business Daily; "Nearly 203 million people watched the 2016 NFL regular season across all networks, a gain of roughly 5 million over the 2015 season.” Finally, being that NFL ratings have survived 229 DUI arrests, 117 drugarrests, 102 domestic violence arrests, 79 assault related arrests, and 46 arrests relating to disorderly conduct since January 1st, 2000 (as of October 2019) , not to mention it being sued by its own former players in a concussion lawsuit, and it’s safe to say the NFL’s ratings have been tested, and have stood the test of time. The claim that Kaepernick is a ratings killer simply is not backed up by the facts.
After all, this took place, and after Kaepernick and Reid sued the league for collusion, the NFL, without having talked to Kaepernick’s camp since February, announced with less than four days notice than there would be a workout for Kaepernick on a Saturday, when most coaches and GM’s are traveling and preparing for their next game (as opposed to Tuesdays when teams usually have the day off). They wouldn’t move it to a Tuesday, and they wouldn’t even move it to the following Saturday to give Kaepernick more time to prepare.
Adding to the distrust between the two sides, the NFL would not tell Kaepernick who his receivers were going to be (prompting the QB to fly in his own receivers on his own dime), nor a list of who would bein attendance, which they originally promised they would. As for open transparency? The NFL did not want to allow any media into the Falcons practice facility, where the workout was originally supposed to be held, something Kaepernick and his camp objected to. And finally, the league wanted Kaepernick to sign a waiver essentially saying that he would not sue the league again for collusion, giving his rights away. Several lawyers, including President of the Georgia State Bar Lester Tate said Kaepernick’s lawyers made the correct decision in advising him not to sign the release and would have been crazy not to do so.
Kaepernick has made his share of mistakes through the years, whether it be wearing socks depicting cops as pigs, wearing a t-shirt with Fidel Castro on it, or wearing a Kunta Kinte t-shirt (not my opinion, but people thought it was a distraction from the football aspect, for whatever that is worth; in some people’s eyes, this was him equating himself to the slave from the movie “Roots”) to his workout, or telling the same owners who he wants to employ him that they should “stop running (that logically, fair or unfair,won’t get billionaire NFL owners, most of whom have big egos, to sign someone who is insulting them). He even once wore a Miami Dolphins hat to a party while he was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, and used to give two to five-word answers, Marshawn Lynch style, which showed dramatic immaturity at the time, in my view. But a deep look into the facts, both on and off the field, reveals that not only is he good enough to play quarterback in the National Football League, but most of the criticisms levied against him, both related to his play and not, simply are not backed up by the facts, and the people who were actually there when things unfolded.