Last week, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines when he helped get a Turkish Airlines plane to fly to Somalia to deliver food, water and assistance to the drought-stricken country.
A few days later, President Donald Trump took the time during a rally in Kentucky to address (brag about?) the fact that Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job.
Yes, in the clearest display of the bigotry still plaguing the NFL, no team – in a league desperate for capable quarterbacks – has signed Kaepernick, a man who led a team to the Super Bowl just a few years ago, and, oh yeah, started a nation-wide conversation about racial injustice and police brutality last year when he took a knee during the national anthem before football games.
During a speech ostensibly about health care, in the middle of an aside about inner cities, Trump cited a Bleacher Report article by Mike Freeman that said a few teams are afraid to sign the former 49er because they fear critical tweets from Trump.
“It was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” Trump told the crowd, who cheered boisterously once they caught up to his train of thought. “Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that.”
Every single thing about this is ridiculous. The President should not be boasting about keeping any American out of a job; the President’s volatile tweetstorms shouldn’t be keeping people up at night; and NFL owners certainly shouldn’t let the fear of a tweet keep them from making a football decision.
But the most ridiculous, depressing part of this story? The fact that there’s truth to it. Even if only a minority of owners are directly afraid of Trump’s twitter wrath, Trumpism — the movement fueled by racism and xenophobia and nationalism — is what’s keeping Kaepernick out of a job right now.
— Malcolm Jenkins (@MalcolmJenkins) March 21, 2017
Sure, it’s tempting to say that Kaepernick isn’t getting any interest from teams because he just isn’t that good of a quarterback right now.
But that simply isn’t an argument supported by stats or tape. He hasn’t won many games over the past two years, but he’s been surrounded by terrible talent, and dealing with injuries. Former NFL player and current SB Nation analyst Stephen White, who has studied Kaepernick’s game extensively, said it was simply “a lie” that Kaepernick isn’t good enough to be an NFL quarterback anymore. Mike Tanier from Bleacher Report said on Twitter that while some of Kaepernick’s raw statistics are “misleading,” claims that Kaepernick “remains unemployed merely for ‘football reasons’ is, frankly, fingers-in-ears, head-in-sand embarrassing.”
Plus, it’s not like the bar is that high for the position in today’s market. NFL teams are lapping up awful quarterbacks this offseason. Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, and Geno Smith — all less accomplished than Kaepernick — have already been signed.
To quote Spike Lee, this is all “mad fishy.”
"He honestly is the most dynamic QB of all these guys who are free."
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) March 21, 2017
One executive told Freeman that Kaepernick is “an embarrassment to football,” and Freeman said that “interest in Kaepernick is slim, and that’s putting it kindly.”
It’s hard to rationalize comments like that as anything other than blatant prejudice. After all, Kaepernick has already said that he won’t kneel during the anthem this season, so the threat of that “distraction” doesn’t exist. Plus, Kaepernick is using his voice, his platform, and his money to actually make a difference. That’s something that the NFL should be championing, not condemning.
Kaepernick’s movement was about much more than taking a knee. He pledged to donate all of his money from jersey sales and $1 million of his own money — $100,000 a month for 10 months — to organizations that assist oppressed communities. He has kept his word, and you can track his donations on his website. This week, he donated $50,000 to Meals on Wheels, a program that Trump wants to cut. (This angered Sarah Palin, who called the move a “political stunt.”)
No, he won't. In the NFL you can re-package an abuser, a drunk driver and a multitude of sins. But an "anti-American?" Nope. https://t.co/yZlsQN9DZx
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) March 22, 2017
But, at the end of the day, this comes down to politics. This is a league that has no African American owners, despite the fact that 70 percent of the league is black. It’s a league that is heavily tied to conservative politics — New York Jets owner Woody Johnson was appointed U.K. ambassador by Trump; New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick count Trump among their dearest friends; and Denver Broncos general manager John Elway attended Trump’s inauguration and just this week wrote a letter of recommendation for Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch.
In other words, it’s a league where the threat of an angry Trump tweet would be a true deterrent.
Kaepernick is not just a black quarterback in a league that has historically discouraged such a combination from existing; he’s a black quarterback who is unabashedly embracing his blackness and speaking out against injustices to his community. He is a black quarterback who refuses to shut up and merely play the game. He is the NFL’s worst nightmare.
On Wednesday, the Love Army for Somalia fundraiser that Kaepernick has been promoting passed $2 million in donations, which will all go directly to food, water, and aid to the Somalian people. Kaepernick donated $50,000 of his own money to the cause. Later that day, the Chicago Bears announced they are meeting with perennial backup quarterback Mark Sanchez later in the week.