On January 12, 2013, I watched in stunned silence as 25-year-old Colin Kaepernick single-handedly beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. After usurping former #1 overall pick Alex Smith, Kaepernick spent the second half of the 2012-13 NFL season on a tear. His rise brought renewed hope to a franchise proud of its quarterback heritage, who had been without a quarterback to be proud of for the better part of two decades. Colin Kaepernick grabbed the rest of the NFL by the short hairs, with comparable gusto and pizzazz to the out-of-left-field “Wildcat” offense fielded by the 2008 Miami Dolphins — which also resulted in record-setting success.
But just like with the “Wildcat” offense, the NFL caught on to Colin Kaepernick, and similarly to the Miami Dolphins, Kaepernick’s impact began to fade. While it is important to discuss Colin Kaepernick’s uncertain future in the context of his diminished play, that is not the only reason the former quarterback-of-the-future is a man without a job.
Starting in the 2016 NFL preseason, Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the National Anthem as a form of protest against the repeated incidents of police brutality and the malignancy of American criminal justice when it comes to people of color. He was only as distracting as the media made him out to be. He was silent. Stoic. Without any semblance of expectation for others to join him. He was the complete opposite of “distracting.”
However, those of us who cover current events, in whatever capacity we cover them, flocked to the story of a degenerating NFL quarterback taking an open and honest position on one of the United States’ greatest controversies. Fox News mocked him. Tomi Lauren dragged him through the mud. Newspapers, national news programs, and commentators both in the realms of politics and sports fought over him, putting words in his mouth that he wasn’t speaking, and only succeeded in using Kap’s cause to further the divide between the consumers they target. One man’s kneeling caused so much political strife that his face became synonymous with both heroism and villainy, in equal proportions.
In what may be one of the best articles I’ve read on ESPN in a significant amount of time, staff writer Dan Graziano bluntly broke down how regardless of whether one views Colin Kaepernick’s fall from the top as performance or politics, everyone is wrong:
“One side cries, ‘Kap’s being blackballed!’ The other side says, ‘It’s just that he’s not that good.’ Each side’s truth is undone by its blindness toward the other’s, and the Kaepernick conversation is too important to drown in the careless language of 21st century bickering.”
Truer words have not been spoken in the eight months since Kap took his first knee in protest. It’s not enough to point out that Kap’s numbers have diminished significantly, for that ignores the political component. Similarly, it’s not enough to point out that Kap’s choice of protest involved what many people view as disrespect to the integrity of one of the United States’ dearest institutions, for that ignores the performance component. The truth of the matter is that Colin Kapernick is stuck between a rock and a hard place, with both sides of the debate dug in and unwavering, and for all the support he has received from fans, and players in multiple sports, who believe him to be championing an important cause, he also finds himself held at the sword of a McCarthyist cabal of virulent “patriots,” among them a President of the United States who has not only painted Kaepernick as little more than hostile, adversarial, and un-American, but who has used his capacity as President of the United States to engage audiences with cancerous boasts about Kap’s lack of job prospects being one of his achievements.
If there were ever a face to personify the ideological division in this country, it is that of Colin Kaepernick and for that, we should all be ashamed of ourselves. Colin Kaepernick is more than a knee during a National Anthem. He’s more than a source of conservative faux-outrage or liberal posturing. He has actually followed through on his positions and his passions, using his hard-earned football dollars to help scores and scores of people whose lives are pestilent, violent, and full of uncertainty. He has done so many great things and will continue to do so. He is a philanthropist, and one whose philanthropy is guided by a drive seen almost exclusively in athletes.
While it’s important to keep in mind that Colin Kaepernick’s field vision is weak to the point where he is not the tour de force quarterback he was once touted, it is also important to remember that his vision is clear when it comes to things that are much more important than football. Colin Kaepernick has not only taken a stand (well, a knee) on significantly important national issues. He has, literally, put his money, his time, and his passion where his mouth is, which is more than can be said about many of his detractors and many who have taken similar positions as he. Even though it stands to reason Colin Kaepernick’s career is sunsetting, he has become a force in other fields where his time, money, and influence are better spent.
I believe that football is not what carves Colin Kaepernick’s name in annals of history and that his name will be more significant for it.