For Colin Kaepernick fans, Thursday started out promising, with whispers from the sports media world that the Baltimore Ravens were considering signing the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
But the honeymoon didn’t last long. That afternoon, ESPN released a story titled, “Anthem protests led poll of reasons viewers tuned out,” which reignited the argument that Kaepernick was responsible for the NFL’s decline in viewership last season. Then, overnight, the Ravens signed David Olson, a former arena-league quarterback who has never played in the NFL.
The Ravens could, technically, still sign Kaepernick to help the team weather a significant absence by injured franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. But the past 24 hours provide yet another example of the lengths the league, team owners, and society at large will go in order to keep Kaepernick and his activism off of the field.
First, let’s talk about the survey released yesterday by J.D. Power and heavily promoted by ESPN.
As Deadspin pointed out, the ESPN article on the survey was written in a way to make readers believe “that fans are leaving in droves, turned off by the national anthem protests inspired by Colin Kaepernick.” But that’s simply not the case. J.D. Power asked 9,200 fans whether they’d watched fewer NFL games in 2016. Only 12 percent of those fans said they had decreased their NFL watching, and 26 percent of those people — 287 out of 9,200 — cited the anthem protests as the reason why.
Comparatively, 27 percent of people surveyed — 2,484 people — said they watched more football than they had in previous seasons, more than enough to offset any of the losses. Plus, the NFL is still dominating all other sports in the ratings.
Yes, the NFL ratings declined slightly last season, but television ratings are down across the board as more and more viewers ditch cable packages and rely on streaming services and social media for their news and entertainment. It’s unlikely Kaepernick taking a knee is responsible for the popularity of Netflix, though you never know.
But this latest misinformation campaign is just a continuation of an ongoing trend: whether intentionally or not, many in the media and the league front office seem hell-bent on coming up with an explanation—any explanation other than bigotry—for why Kaepernick hasn’t been signed. It’s not working.
An NBC Sports reporter tweeted that some teams even expressed concerned about signing Kaepernick because of his vegan diet. But those close to Kaepernick say he’s working out extremely hard and is in some of the best shape of his career, having gained 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason.
Many have questioned whether Kaepernick even wants to play football anymore, musing that he might care more about activism than he does throwing touchdowns. Kaepernick’s trainer told Sports Illustrated that the 29 year-old has been in the gym “five hours a day, five days a week, like he has a starting NFL job.”
While Kaepernick is clearly dedicated to his activism work, and has already given out $700,000 of the $1 million he pledged to donate to communities impacted by oppression, he has also said that he will not kneel during the anthem this season, which suggests he’s more than willing to compromise for the sake of the team.
Rumors that Kaepernick is a divisive and distracting presence in the locker room have been refuted by his former coaches Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly, who both sing his praises, and his 49ers teammates last season who awarded him with the prestigious Len Ashmont Award, recognizing his efforts on and off the field.
Oh, and then there are the people saying that Kaepernick, a player who led his team to the Super Bowl a few years ago and was considered one of the rising stars in the league, just isn’t talented enough to play quarterback in the NFL anymore.
That might be the most insulting argument of all, considering the laundry list of awful quarterbacks who are currently on NFL rosters.
Kaepernick’s unemployment has nothing to do with his arm strength, diet, or passion for the game. He is not disrupting locker room chemistry, nor is he causing flocks of NFL fans to turn their backs to the game forever. He is a black man who peacefully protested racial oppression and police brutality and challenged millions to think critically about the system that is responsible for both. He is a black man who inspired other black men to stand up for their rights and speak out for their beliefs, and there are many in the league who clearly don’t want to encourage such behavior.
Kaepernick may or may not be on a roster once the NFL season kicks off, but no matter what, the NFL has already sent a strong message. And it has nothing to do with ratings, and everything to do with making sure that other players don’t follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps.