The bandwagon has done a sudden 180 on national-anthem kneeling protests, and the head of the NFL says he would “encourage” a team to bring Kaep back. How times do change.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has not played a single down of pro football since Donald Trump was sworn in as president. We looked up the last Daisy Does the Niners of the Colin Kaepernick era, a forgettable loss played on New Year’s Day 2017 that closed out the string of a 2-14 season, and found it was also Chip Kelly’s last game as coach and Trent Baalke’s last as GM. Kaepernick’s departure was a foregone conclusion, amidst his national anthem kneeling protests (and other more subtle critiques of police brutality) that made him the lightning rod face of athlete demonstrations, and of course a constant target of Trump’s tantrums. Kneeling for the anthem has become so associated specifically with Kaep that you’d think that's what people meant by “Kaepernicking” — though that was actually the act of kissing one’s own biceps, a gesture from a simpler time.
Yet Kaep now seems likely to both play pro football and kiss his biceps again, as the tides have turned in favor of anthem protests given the rash of police brutality demonstrations. In an ESPN appearance Tuesday night, league commissioner Roger Goodell, looking like he’s in a hostage video, as he always does when discussing race issues, commented on Kapernick’s protest-induced blackballing. “If he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it’s gonna take a team to make that decision. I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that," Goodell said. Other media reports assert Goodell has “expressed support behind the scenes” for getting Kaepernick back in the league.
And on the kneeling matter: “We should have listened to our players earlier,” Goodell admitted. “Our players, including Colin Kaepernick, including Eric Reid, including Kenny Stills, and so many others Malcolm Jenkins, so many people that really brought these issues to light.” He also mentioned a “video that came out Thursday night” put together by players that can be seen below.
Kaepernick himself has remained interested in returning all along, even through his 2017 lawsuit accusing league owners of colluding against him to keep him out of football. He’ll be 32 years old once the 2020 season starts, but as recently as February he told USA Today, “I still train five days a week. I’m ready to go, I’m ready for a phone call, tryout, workout at any point in time. I’m still waiting on the owners and their partners to stop running from this situation. So I hope I get a call this offseason.”
It’s ironic that no team had wanted to sign him because of the potential PR hit, but now his signing would represent a public relations boost. In an assessment of which NFL team might sign Kaepernick, CBS Sports notes that likely suitors would be teams where Kaep’s mobile skill set would make him a logical schematic backup to their current run-happy quarterback (Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs), or teams whose owners are vocal on social justice issues (Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars). They also throw in the Minnesota Vikings, what with the George Floyd-Minneapolis connection and what the move would symbolize.
All of this avoids discussing the big elephant in the room question, which is whether there will even be a 2020 NFL season. It received less notice yesterday that “multiple” Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans have recently tested positive for COVID-19, according to NFL.com. But it's also a possibility that fans won't be allowed at stadiums this NFL season, so fan behavior with regards to Kaepernick seems less likely to be a contentious issue.
Image: Mike Morbeck via Flickr