In a speech Monday in Kentucky, Donald Trump bragged that it was for fear of Twitter criticism from him that NFL owners had shown little interest in approaching Colin Kaepernick, the now-former 49ers Quarterback who is in his first week of free agency. As CNN reports, Trump couched his remarks about Kapernick, made in an otherwise nationalistic speech, as having been reported accounts he was merely repeating. Regardless, he and the audience took clear delight in the idea of punishing Kaepernick for a political gesture he made last year by kneeling during the National Anthem.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said when he began his protest in the 2016 pre-season. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Originally sitting during the speech, Kaepernick began taking a knee instead to show his respect for American troops, and others in the league and in other sports have followed suit. Now, however, and perhaps at the suggestion of his new agents, the player claims his protest has run its course and earlier this month said he plans to stand for the National Anthem if he plays with another NFL team next season. That could happen, but it very well may not. So far, his phone hasn't been ringing.
As Trump put it in his Kentucky speech, "Your San Francisco quarterback, I'm sure nobody ever heard of him... It was reported that NFL owners don't want to pick him up because they don't want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that. I said, If I remember that one, I'm gonna report it to the people of Kentucky. Cause they like it when people actually stand for the American flag, right?"
Amid cheers, Trump pivoted his remarks to his campaign promises. "Our struggling industries are going to be revitalized, and our dying factories will come roaring back to life."
One article Trump could have been referring to is this one from Bleacher Report, although surely this has all been speculated elsewhere. "It's hard to emphasize how unusual Kaepernick's current situation is," NFL writer Mike Freeman explained. "If a Super Bowl quarterback can walk and chew bubble gum simultaneously, he gets opportunities. Those opportunities usually arrive until that player is totally and completely done. That's not the case with Kaepernick."
Why? "He can still play at a high level," one AFC general manager told Freeman. "The problem is three things are happening with him. First, some teams genuinely believe that he can't play. They think he's shot. I'd put that number around 20 percent. Second, some teams fear the backlash from fans after getting him. They think there might be protests or [President Donald] Trump will tweet about the team. I'd say that number is around 10 percent. Then there's another 10 percent that has a mix of those feelings. Third, the rest genuinely hate him and can't stand what he did [kneeling for the national anthem]. They want nothing to do with him. They won't move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did."
Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler echoes the sentiment. "After struggling last year to regain weight lost to surgeries, Kaepernick is back to full strength, and possibly to full speed," Ostler observes. "On a terrible team with castoff receivers, his TD-to-INT ratio last season was 4-to-1. He earned the respect of his head coach, team owner and teammates, who found him inspirational in times of crisis."
By Ostler's math, the divided opinions on Kaepernick are just 50-50. "The league seems split into two camps: Teams (coaches/owners/general managers) who hate Kaepernick for his national-anthem protest, and teams that are afraid of Kaeper-lash from fans and maybe from the president of the United States."
NFL contract or not, Kaepernick is spreading his wealth and making more political statements. SB Nation reports that the player has been donating $100,000 a month since last October, and is on his way to making $1 million in donations over the course of a year. The latest donations are $100,000 split between Love Army for Somalia, directed at famine relief, and Meals on Wheels, an organization to which Trump's first budget plan would cut federal grants.