It’s been years since Colin Kaepernick sat down for an on-the-record interview about the NFL, and it was something of a coup for the “I Am Athlete” show to get him recently after Kaepernick was in the Miami area for a workout.
He sat down with hosts Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Adam “Pacman” Jones and Brandon Marshall for a brief talk that packed quite a bit of punch, especially when it comes to Kaepernick disputing many of the lies that have been spread about him.
Kaepernick has been traveling all over of late, working out with current and former players and posting some of the footage online.
First and foremost, he said without hesitation that he’s willing to sign with a team as a backup quarterback, debunking one of the most-repeated untruths about what he would or wouldn’t do to get another chance.
“I know I have to find my way back in. So, if I have to come in as a backup, that’s fine,” Kaepernick said. “But that’s not where I’m staying, and when I prove that I’m a starter, I want to step onto the field as such.”
The 34-year-old also did a bit of role playing, with Marshall in the role of an NFL general manager raising some of the so-called reasons a team has yet to sign Kaepernick.
“Let me come in and compete,” Kaepernick said. “Let me come in, compete, show you what I can do.”
Marshall brought up the “distraction” trope parroted by many league-friendly media members, that Kaepernick’s presence might somehow be too much for a new team to handle. Marshall also brought up the “this is a $16 billion industry” and asked what a team is supposed to say to its fan base if it signs Kaepernick.
Marshall played the role perfectly, especially on the fan base question. Because what was unsaid, what is almost always unsaid when that comes up, is that the phrase “NFL fan base,” like the words “Midwest voter” or “rural,” is a euphemism for conservative, white and fine with Blacks as long as they’re entertaining us and not asking for things like equality or to be treated with basic human decency.
That’s who the league wants to appease, and at this point (*gestures toward the annual and failed tinkerings with the Rooney Rule*) it’s clear that nearly all of the team owner class agrees with them.
Forget the inspiration that Kaepernick provides to Black fans. Forget the fact he’s been banned while numerous other players who have actually broken the law — or are facing more than 20 civil suits for sexual impropriety — have been welcomed back. Forget that he’s a hero to an untold number of people because while he unwittingly became a new face of the ongoing civil rights movement, he’s only leaned into it since. Forget that Kaepernick supporters have money to spend and devices to watch games as well, and a good number of them would instantly become fans of the team that signed him.
Kaepernick had the perfect response for that bad-faith argument, one that highlights the NFL’s obviously performative actions.
“You have ‘end racism’ in the back of your end zones, you’ve got ‘Black lives matter’ on your helmet. Everything I’ve said should be in alignment with what you’re saying publicly,” he shot back, with Johnson murmuring in support like Grandmama on Sunday when the preacher is on a roll. “It’s a $16 billion business — when I first took a knee, my jersey went to No. 1. When I did the deal with Nike, their value increased by $6 billion. Billion, with a ‘B.’
“So if you’re talking about the business side, it makes sense. If you’re talking about the playing side, let me compete. You can evaluate me from there.”
Were the NFL team owner class actually committed to helping eradicate anti-Black racism in this country, it would heed Kaepernick’s words and realize how foolish the league looks trying to pass off end zone paint as substantive action, especially when it’s been completely silent on actual civil rights issues it could have influenced. Like in Arizona, host of Super Bowl LVII, where state legislators have passed several anti-democratic voting restrictions, which almost always disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and Native voters.
Were the owner class actually concerned with racism on a level beyond stenciling in the end zone, it would acknowledge that fans have supported Kaepernick’s right to protest for awhile now.
Were all members of the owner class actually committed to winning, one of them would have signed Kaepernick years ago. At his best, he was the prototype dual-threat quarterback that has risen to prominence in the league in the years since.
It is great to see videos of Kaepernick on the field with other players, eager to line up with a man who has lost his career because he was tired of seeing videos of Black men that looked like him and his teammates killed by police, and those police getting paid vacation for doing so. It’s also great that his debut book, a children’s title called “I Color Myself Different” made it to the New York Times bestseller list — underscoring, again, that the number of people who don’t like Kap isn’t as large as the owner class wants you to believe.
The reality is, however, he probably waited too long to tell his side. The reality is those owners or coaches who may have been willing to bring Kaepernick aboard have cowered long enough that now they can tell media it’s just been too long since he last played, and that’s why he has gone unsigned.
That’s a useful new excuse, and this one actually has an air of believability, because how many NFL players really do spend five years out of the game and come back? And they’ll hope no one asks the proper follow-up question, noting that Kaepernick has been keeping himself in shape and was free to be signed at any point. (Looking at you, Pete Carroll.)
They’ll find people willing to believe that lie, because there are still people who hate Kaepernick and will believe every lie told about him, from salary demands he never made to statements he never said to team workouts he’s never gotten.
The owner class wouldn’t have it any other way.