The NFL and Colin Kaepernick are done with each other
Roger Goodell said the league has moved on, but that’s only half the story
The NFL is officially done with Colin Kaepernick, commissioner Roger Goodell revealed this week, but that’s only half the story. Because of his unwillingness to conform, Kaepernick has also shut the door on the league, and it’s best that both parties finally move forward separately.
In the wake of a league-arranged workout for Kaepernick in November that, predictably, fell apart amid finger-pointing between the quarterback and his onetime employer, Goodell said Kaepernick is in the league’s rearview mirror. “This was … about creating an opportunity,” Goodell said in response to reporters’ questions about last month’s scheduled event in Atlanta that Kaepernick canceled at the last minute following multiple disagreements between the sides. “It was a unique opportunity – an incredible opportunity – and he chose not to take it. I understand that. And we have moved on.”
The NFL was as interested in evaluating Kaepernick’s mindset about rejoining a roster as it was in gauging his ability to still make all the throws on the route tree. On the former, Kaepernick provided the wrong answer by pushing back against the league’s workout parameters, rendering his still-impressive arm strength moot. The NFL learned what it truly deemed most important: If let back in, Kaepernick would come only on his terms. And for the league, that is a nonstarter.
There’s no point in relitigating whether Kaepernick or the NFL erred in taking such a hard-line stance on the myriad issues that prompted the workout to collapse. Let’s just agree that the communication between the sides at the beginning could have been better.
Regardless of Kaepernick’s concerns, though, the NFL clearly wanted him to show his willingness to fall in line. Instead, he continued to display the same fierce independence that powered his protests of systemic oppression and police brutality throughout the 2016 season, which simultaneously endeared him to millions and made him a villain to equally as many.
The NFL wants its players to both be all about football and deferential to what it says is the best interests of the game. And for quarterbacks, the highest-paid players and the faces of the league, there’s an even higher bar: set the example that conformity is paramount in the workplace. Quarterbacks are supposed to be the first in the facility, the last to leave and always focused on helping to bolster the bottom line by putting the team first.
The standard to which quarterbacks are held is among the reasons that Kaepernick’s decision to protest during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the fallout it created, frustrated so many of the league’s highest-ranking decision-makers. The former San Francisco 49ers star took the focus off the field and single-handedly ignited a movement that threatened the NFL’s financial stability. Think about it: Other than Kaepernick, how many quarterbacks were actively involved in the NFL protest movement? The answer is zero.
You had better believe that before franchises would even consider signing Kaepernick, they’d want assurances that he was sufficiently contrite for the turmoil he stirred. Kaepernick provided none, skipping what the NFL put in place and conducting his own audition for a much smaller audience. It’s not surprising that, according to Kaepernick’s representatives, no teams have expressed interest in even opening a dialogue about signing him.
Of course, as was the case with his protests back in 2016, Kaepernick went into the workout with his eyes wide open. Someone as intelligent as Kaepernick (he has been highly effective at controlling his narrative) surely realized what would happen if he took his ball and went elsewhere. He was fine with whatever occurred, as evidenced by the fact that he thumbed his nose at the NFL.
Whatever interest Kaepernick has in resuming his playing career, he’s clearly not willing to pursue a gig at all costs. Nor should he.
Kaepernick is an icon in the battle for social justice. He has donated substantially to charitable causes and educated and empowered people through his Know Your Rights Camp. He’s just in a much different space than any other free agent in NFL history. Frankly, it would have been shocking if Kaepernick had acquiesced to whatever the NFL put in front of him.
There were many influential, well-meaning people – including Jay-Z and members of his Roc Nation staff, and Harry Edwards, the sports activist and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley – who pushed the league to grant Kaepernick an audition, and Goodell listened. The NFL is also a copycat league, and the game-changing performances of many African Americans during the Year of the Black Quarterback led some team officials to wonder aloud about Kaepernick, a former dual-threat standout who started two NFC championship games and a Super Bowl.
Teams had concerns about bringing in Kaepernick to their facilities for individual workouts, fearing word would leak and fans would revolt. The group gathering in Atlanta was designed partly to provide political cover for clubs. However, here’s the thing: If it took all of that for a few teams that may have had some interest in Kaepernick to conduct a job interview, perhaps the tryout wasn’t the best idea after all, especially since the interviewee had his own conditions for the process.
More than two years ago, I wrote that Kaepernick was finished as an NFL player. Through his actions, Kaepernick finally made it known to the NFL that the feeling is mutual.