Matt’s Musings: The NFL’s unfairness doesn’t excuse Colin Kaepernick’s missed opportunity

Matt Singer | Contributing Writer

The last time I wrote this column, I spoke of the rising racism in European soccer. I said it was a cut and dry issue, with bigoted fans and spineless bureaucratic organizations at fault. It was simple enough.

Racial issues in sports span across the world and manifest themselves in different ways depending on where they take place. The United States has a history of social change and overcoming public backlash through the lens of sports. People like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell changed the athletic landscape not only in this country, but around the world.

This brings us to American sports’ current number one hot button issue, still, after three years: Colin Kaepernick vs. the National Football League.

It started out like most stories concerning racial justice in this country. A Black man fairly protests inequality, utilizing his constitutional right to free speech and free protest. In this case, he kneels during the national anthem to protest police brutality. The white guys say he is disrespecting the flag and the troops, making him unpatriotic. The rich, old white dudes (i.e. NFL owners) see falling television ratings as well as someone who won’t bow to their will, and, in concurrence with NFL Commissioner and bad James Bond villain Roger Goodell, bar Kaepernick from the league.

Kaepernick has been blackballed by the NFL since 2016. It’s not like he was a superstar, but the man took his team to the Super Bowl in 2012 and almost led them back the following year. There’s a dearth of competent quarterbacks in the NFL, making it ridiculous for him to be out of the league for so long. Forget backups; are you really telling me you’d take Joe Flacco and whoever he’s been replaced with over Kaepernick? Of course not.

This saga has gone on and on, with Kaepernick even suing the NFL at one point, and winning! (Well, kind of—the NFL settled.) After a while, Kaepernick came out publicly to say that the thing he wanted more than anything at this point was to just play football. He just wanted to get his shot again. He had waited more than long enough. It was time for the NFL to let him back into the fold.

Between most adults, that’s what would have happened. Problems usually heal over time, and after all the time Kaepernick has been away from football, one would think we were far removed enough from his anthem protests that he and the NFL could patch things up.

But that would just make too much sense. Instead, we learned that the NFL holds a grudge longer than a Real Housewife when they extended a synthetic olive branch to Kaepernick last week by scheduling him a workout in front of scouts on Saturday. This is the equivalent of an eight-year-old apologizing while crossing his fingers behind his back so that what he said didn’t actually count. Why, you may ask. Generally, workouts such as the one Kaepernick was given are known about a couple of weeks in advance and are on Tuesdays. That Kaepernick was given less than a week’s notice for a Saturday workout is a slap in the face to him.

So, after initially accepting the NFL’s offer, Kaepernick later decided to forgo the scheduled workout and hold his own for the media, sans the scouts. This was Kaepernick slapping the NFL right back, due to his rightful distrust of the organization.

I’ve been on Kaepernick’s side of the issue since he first knelt, and I continue to support his social justice cause. However, for someone who said his number one goal at this point was just to play football in the NFL, skipping the workout and leaving scouts—as well as the league—out to dry is just not the way to go about it.

Yes, the NFL has mistreated him. Yes, the NFL absolutely has a “plantation mentality,” as journalist and sports commentator Mike Wilbon says, in terms of its treatment of its predominantly black players. Yes, Roger Goodell is what you get when white bread expires. But even still, if you’re Kaepernick, you need to attend that workout.

At some point, if he really wants to play in the NFL again, Kaepernick will need to put at least some faith in the league. Not in their intentions, but just that they will allow him back. After watching his live-streamed workout the other day, an unnamed NFL executive told ESPN that Kaepernick had “elite arm talent.” Stephen A. Smith (take this with a few heaping handfuls of salt) claims he heard from people within the NFL that had Kaepernick participated in the NFL-sponsored workout, he would have been on a roster in no more than two weeks.

As a guy who writes about sports in a critical fashion, I consider it my job to call the NFL out on their issues. When they’re biased or problematic, I try to call them out when they don’t do their job. The NFL needs to be held responsible for their actions. They are in the wrong. Flat out. Even so, if Kaepernick really wants to play football, he’s going to need to take a risk and trust the NFL. It’s not fair and things should not be the way they are, but this is the unfortunate reality. As a football player, it is Kaepernick’s job to play football. If social justice was his main focus, then fair enough. But that is not the case.

I believe in Kaepernick’s message, and that he has conducted himself, for the most part, in a very good manner over the course of this ordeal. But on Saturday, I believe that Kaepernick—as good as his intentions may have been—missed out on an opportunity.

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