Like it or not, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick succeeded when he started taking a knee during the national anthem. He also shed some light on the NFL’s clear lack of a moral compass.
It has been almost two years since the start of the controversial protest. In that time, the meaning, message and significance of Kaepernick’s actions have become part of national news and debate. That alone means he has accomplished a lot.
Kaepernick has explicitly stated his protest is about police brutality and racial inequality, two major issues that face our country today. Regardless of which side of the conversation you stand on, you cannot deny that the conversation is happening.
Without trying to get too political here, I want to focus more on the overall impact of Kaepernick’s protest. It has raised awareness across the country about important issues. It is because of him that these conversations are being had. Washington Post writer Kent Babb quoted an NFL owner in September of 2017 as saying, “The thing that he’s done probably more effectively than any team community relations staff or owner or coach could do for other players is [point out] that they do have the ability to affect the national dialogue.”
National dialogue has certainly been impacted. A small group of players across the NFL joined in with the protest. Fans boycotted the league because it could not curb the behavior. The president tweeted about it regularly, attacking commissioner Roger Goodell for not stopping the behavior.
Several other NFL players formed the Players Coalition, working for social change. They credited Kaepernick for starting a movement. Back in May, that group partnered with the NFL to dedicate about $90 million to battling social inequality.
For Kaepernick, it is more than just a protest. In 2017, he donated $1 million to various charities across the country. Greg Bishop and Ben Baskin do an excellent job profiling the choices he made in making these contributions and break down where the money went.
Then of course there is the Nike ad. The fact that Nike was willing to take this risk says a lot about the state of the NFL right now. The league had no idea this campaign was coming and it is meant to inspire. It has sparked protest from those who view any association with Kaepernick as disrespectful to the military, but the message from the ad is actually quite inspiring, encouraging kids to chase their dreams.
There are still drawbacks. The message is often times misconstrued and the debate can quickly turn into personal attacks of someone’s character. Many feel that Kaepernick is ignorant in his action, especially with the Nike ad slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Perhaps that mantra is a little too on the nose when one of the main critiques of his protest is that it disrespects the military, people who genuinely sacrifice their lives for our freedom. In my opinion, Nike probably went a bit too far. Kaepernick sacrificed his NFL career for his protest, but the idea of “sacrificing everything” is better-suited to describe members of the armed forces.
At the same time, Kaepernick has sacrificed a lot of his own personal gains in order to continue this protest. Without the controversy that surrounds him, he would certainly be on an NFL roster, making several millions of dollars. And yes, he would be on an NFL roster if he had never knelled during the national anthem. Robert Griffin III is currently a member of the Baltimore Ravens. The last time the two of them played in the regular season, Kaepernick put up far better numbers, throwing 16 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions in 12 games. Griffin managed a meager two touchdowns and three interceptions in five appearances. Kaepernick also had more passing yards and rushing yards per game and the two had identical completion percentages. Simply stated, Kaep was the better player. Yet, it is RG3 who finds himself on an NFL roster.
I’m not saying Kaepernick should be starting anywhere, but he is good enough to be a backup quarterback. He has plenty of experience and was on a team that reached the Super Bowl in 2013. I mean Nathan Peterman has a job! That guy has thrown two touchdown and seven interceptions, and owns a career completion percentage of 43! The point is, Kaepernick would most certainly be on an NFL roster if not for the anthem protest.
You can dispute how much of a sacrifice this really is, but when you look at the number of NFL players that hold out or complain about not being paid enough money, Kaepernick is holding himself to a higher standard.
The fact he isn’t on a roster, but Mychal Kendricks has a roster spot is possibly the most disappointing part of this whole issue. Kendricks was indicted and charged with insider trading at the beginning of this month. He now faces 25 years in prison for his crimes. After the news broke regarding the charges, the Cleveland Browns released him. Just a few weeks later, he is now starting for the Seattle Seahawks.
Kendricks’ presence juxtaposed to Kaepernick’s absence illustrates the hypocrisy of the NFL. The fact that a convicted criminal is on a roster ahead of a man standing up for social change is disgusting. You might not like what Kaepernick kneels for or the message he is promoting, but he is not a criminal. He is acting upon a constitutional right to peacefully protest. The willingness of NFL owners to sign players who are criminals just reminds everyone the league is a business and willing to look the other way as long as the negative publicity does not effect the bottom line. It also underlines the reality that off-the-field issues can be over looked, though it continues to prevent Kaepernick from being in an NFL jersey.
Editor’s note: Since I first published this, there were signs that this controversy is no longer going to bar players from being in the league. Former 49ers safety Eric Reid signed with the Carolina Panthers on Thursday. Reid was the first player to join Kaepernick in taking a knee during the national anthem back in 2016. This does not solve everything, but it is progress. Reid, much like Kaepernick, deserves to be on an NFL roster.
People on both sides of the issue have been offended or hurt by the words spoken and actions taken. Unfortunately, that is often how change comes about. It requires patience and perseverance.
And Kaepernick has proven that he will be patient in his pursuit of change. Two years later, he still does not have an NFL contract. He rarely makes public appearances. He continues to embark on philanthropic missions.
Love him or hate him, Kaepernick has started a movement, he has sparked a conversation and he has forever changed how athletes will view their platform. On those grounds, his protest has definitely been a success.