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Aaron Rodgers takes a sledgehammer to Kaepernick myth

Super Bowl-winning quarterback speaking out is troubling for the NFL

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers became the most high-profile player to publicly dismiss the nonsensical arguments for why Colin Kaepernick has been shut out of the NFL, echoing what some African-American players and many civil rights activists have said for months: It’s all about Kaepernick’s politics. And with Rodgers’ comments, the NFL’s Kaepernick problem got bigger.

In a revealing ESPN The Magazine story, Green Bay’s superstar passer laid it out to my colleague Mina Kimes, saying it would be “ignorant” to think that there’s any other explanation for why Kaepernick, an accomplished free-agent quarterback, would still be without a contract with the regular season scheduled to kick off in a little more than a week. Throughout the offseason, people on the front lines of the battle for equality have maintained that Kaepernick’s season-long peaceful protest in 2016 — he chose not to stand during the national anthem, first sitting then kneeling, in an effort to draw attention to the oppression of black people and people of color — must have infuriated top NFL decision-makers, who, in their view, are both punishing Kaepernick and sending a clear signal to other players to tone down their social activism.

Recently, white players have taken a bigger role in the growing protest movement. Rodgers, however, is the first white player to call out owners for, in his opinion, essentially blackballing Kaepernick. “I think he should be on a roster right now,” Rodgers told Kimes. “I think because of his protests, he’s not.”

Well, there you have it. The person widely considered the best player at professional sports’ most important position believes Kaepernick, if not for doing something legal and within NFL rules, would have been back at work long ago. From the moment Kaepernick decided to use his platform to fight for others, no comment from within the NFL has been more important than what Rodgers said to Kimes.

Rodgers has the standing to pretty much say whatever he wants about Kaepernick’s situation without fear of reprisal from league power brokers. The likelihood is that there are other white players who share Rodgers’ view about Kaepernick’s ability but, worried about their own job security, have been reluctant to voice their concerns.

It wouldn’t be surprising if more white players were to voice their support of Rodgers supporting Kaepernick. Combined with the expanding protests, the NFL faces the potential for increased strife in its ranks as a new season gets underway. This is partly the scenario Harry Edwards recently raised in an interview with The Undefeated: The NFL is in danger of turning Kaepernick into a martyr.

When Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett recently said the conversation about anthem protests would change if white players became part of the movement, he was getting at the optics of the situation. “When somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it … it would change the whole conversation,” Bennett said. “Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.”

Rodgers isn’t merely a great player. He’s a Super Bowl-winning franchise quarterback and a national corporate pitchman. When fans think about the NFL, Rodgers’ face is one of the first to come to mind. In today’s game, the future Hall of Famer’s platform is second to none.

With his megaphone, Rodgers pushed back against the league office, which continues to insist that the former San Francisco 49ers signal-caller is without a job merely because teams believe other quarterbacks are better. NFL officials continue to serve this tripe despite the fact that Kaepernick, in his career, has a 64.9 Total QBR, has completed 59.8 percent of his passes and has a touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio of 2.4 (72 touchdowns, only 30 interceptions). Of the 64 quarterbacks who are currently first- and second-stringers on the league’s 32 teams, Kaepernick’s statistics are better than 30 of them in all three categories, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

There’s no one on the planet who knows more about the art of playing quarterback than Aaron Charles Rodgers. And when he looks at Kaepernick, he sees someone who is more than talented enough to at least be on an NFL roster.

Remember: Rodgers didn’t suggest that Tom Brady should be on clipboard duty behind Kaepernick. Rodgers’ only point is that with the dearth of QB talent in a 32-team league, Kaepernick shouldn’t have a problem finding work. Except for the fact, Rodgers says, that Kaepernick has been sidelined because his politics aren’t in line with the people who run the league. The fact that Rodgers became the first white player to take a sledgehammer to the Kaepernick myth is trouble for the NFL.

It was easy for naysayers to simply dismiss the comments of players such as Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins (who blasted owners for not signing Kaepernick), Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and others. Just a bunch of black guys sticking together, the thinking went. Obviously, Rodgers doesn’t fit into that group.

Ostensibly, Rodgers doesn’t have a dog in this fight. He still stands for the anthem “because that’s the way I feel about the flag,” he told Kimes. “But I’m also 100 percent supportive of my teammates or any fellow players who are choosing not to. They have a battle for racial equality. That’s what they’re trying to get a conversation started around.”

By revealing his thoughts on Kaepernick’s situation, Rodgers reminded us that what Kaepernick is fighting for, and what he has lost as a result, is not a “black issue.” It’s an issue of right and wrong.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.