Imagine, if you will, it’s Dec. 1, 2019. Deep beneath Bank of America Stadium, the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback — a guy by the name of Colin Kaepernick — steps to the podium to answer questions about the game that has just concluded.
The Panthers have lost the game, to the Redskins on their home turf, and Carolina’s season is officially dead. Kaepernick was barely serviceable — 220 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions. He still knelt during the national anthem before the game, the way he has knelt every game since being signed as Cam Newton’s insurance policy back in September. But the questions about his protest have dwindled every week. And this week, he gets exactly zero.
Kaepernick answers a few questions about open receivers and strategy and next week’s game against Arizona. And then he’s done. No politics, no protest talk, just a middling quarterback on a flailing team in a league that has plenty of both.
Now, back to reality. In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen an entire Pro Bowl’s worth of quarterbacks — Luck, Brees, Roethlisberger, Newton, even Sam Darnold if you’re feeling generous — leave the field for weeks, months, forever. Each time another quarterback goes down, each time a team picks a retread off the QB scrap heap, the call resounds across Twitter: sign Colin Kaepernick!
I’m going to sidestep entirely the question of whether Kaepernick is in game shape now. You’ll have a tough time making a convincing argument that a guy who hasn’t taken a live snap in two-plus years is in anything close to game shape. You’ll also have a difficult time making the case that Kaepernick would be any worse than, say, Paxton Lynch, who has played exactly five NFL games, zero since 2017, and yet still snagged a spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster.
Source close to @Kaepernick7 in light of all the QB injuries: “Colin is literally in the best shape of his life. He’s been working out 5 days a week at 5 am for 3 years. He wants to play and his agent has been contacting teams in need of a QB.”— Chris Williamson (@CWilliamson44) September 17, 2019
“Colin is literally in the best shape of his life,” a Kap source told SNY’s Chris Williamson. “He’s been working out 5 days a week at 5 am for 3 years. He wants to play and his agent has been contacting teams in need of a QB.”
And that’s awesome, and good for him, and all the best luck in the world … as long as he wants to be a quarterback.
If he wants to keep holding onto his place as a civil rights icon — and make no mistake, that’s exactly what he is — he shouldn’t get anywhere near a locker room or sideline ever again.
Kaepernick’s power comes from his marginalized status, from the fact that he walked away from the greatest job in sports because of his beliefs. (Yes, he may have had offers to come back. That’s not the point. Stick with the bigger picture here.)
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As an unknown quantity — as the great What-If? — Kaepernick enjoys a far greater potential platform than he would if he were, say, backing up Teddy Bridgewater in New Orleans or coming in for garbage time in Jets games. All he’s got to do is speak up — why he hasn’t done so more often is a mystery — and he’d have the national media lining up to broadcast his message.
Sure, it’s entirely possible that Kap does want to play quarterback and be a symbol for progressive change. That’s one hell of a fine aim. But even at his very best, Kaepernick wasn’t an elite quarterback. Now, half a decade removed from his Super Bowl moment? If that door’s not already closed, it’s barely cracked wide enough to let light through.
Kaepernick still has legions of fans willing to follow him, and major companies willing to back his play. Nike won an Emmy for its Kaepernick commercial from earlier this year. In crass commercial terms, protest in 2019 can pay off big.
Even though Kaepernick got aced out of the NFL-sanctioned social media space by Jay-Z, there’s no reason why he can’t be the face of a social change movement, one that reaches far beyond his original aims of protesting police brutality. He’s got the name recognition, the bona fides and the scars — financial, if not literal — necessary to rally people to his cause. But that’s not happening if he’s spending his Sundays answering questions about why he threw that third interception.
Kaepernick the protester is a symbol of a new progressivism in America. Kaepernick the quarterback is … just one of 32 guys.
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