Alex Smith calls Colin Kaepernick's NFL absence 'tragic': 'Country wasn't ready for it'

Cassandra Negley
·4 min read

Alex Smith played with Colin Kaepernick with the San Francisco 49ers and a decade after their time there he said Kaepernick being left off an NFL roster "still doesn't make sense."

The Washington Football Team quarterback and 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year said on the "10 Questions with Kyle Brandt" podcast that "the country wasn't ready" for Kaepernick's social justice work.

Kaepernick out of NFL 'doesn't make sense'

Smith and Kaepernick were on the 49ers roster together in 2011 and 2012, during which they reached the Super Bowl. Kaepernick was the starting quarterback during that NFC championship run, but as Smith explained they did "everything together."

"The run that he went on the last year we were together when we went to the Super Bowl ... [it] was so crazy to watch. Truly one of the historic runs in football to see what he was doing," Smith said on the "10 Questions with Kyle Brandt" podcast. "He still holds records from that time period. Really special. It's crazy that fast forward to only a couple of years after that he was out of the league. You couldn't even grasp it. You couldn't understand it. It still doesn't make sense."

In his first postseason start, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, a record for a quarterback, and scored two touchdowns on the ground against the Green Bay Packers.

Smith calls Kaepernick situation 'tragic'

Alex Smith in Chiefs uniform and Kaepernick in 49ers uniform.
Alex Smith, then with the Kansas City Chiefs, hugs former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick following a game in 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Kaepernick held the starting job in San Francisco for the next four years while Smith moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs through the 2017 season. In 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in preseason games and it eventually drew the wrath of the country, including political pressure by then-president Donald Trump.

He opted out of his contract in March 2017 after the 49ers reportedly told him they were cutting him. He has not played in the NFL since and filed a grievance along with former teammate Eric Reid against the NFL, claiming the team owners colluded to keep him out. They settled the grievance in February 2019.

Smith said he's a big fan of Kaepernick and called him an incredibly thoughtful human who was brave in taking a stand.

"It's so tragic, looking at it," Smith said on the podcast. "I think he was ahead of his time, certainly, trying to call out social injustice, especially around police reform. The country wasn't ready. Nobody was ready for it. And he's sitting there trying to tell everybody through a completely peaceful manner about some of the things going on in this country and that have been going on for a long time.

"To see the backlash that happened, yeah, it hurts. It hurts looking back at it that the country wasn't ready for it, and he suffered the repercussions with his job. And then how brave he was to put his — I mean, he lost his livelihood."

Smith said he always thought Kaepernick was one of the ones with "the brightest future" ahead and remembers others early on calling him one of the greatest quarterbacks from a talent perspective.

"And to think that it was all gone two years later because of a peaceful demonstration that he was taking," Smith said. "Tragic, sad, but obviously he was incredibly brave. And I'm certainly proud of him, to even know him and what he's done. Because fast forward a few years later and I think we all were like, 'He obviously was trying to tell us something and knew it.' To see what's happened this last year and hopefully will continue to happen going forward, you hope that he'll be a part of the answer and the solution."

Kneeling during the national anthem has remained a topic of conversation since 2016, but hit another level last summer after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. Floyd's death spurred a national reckoning with race and social justice initiatives in all major professional sports. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the league was wrong in its handling of player protests and echoed a call from Black players to say, specifically, that Black lives matter to the league.

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