Everything But The Quarterback: How The NFL Co-Opted Colin Kaepernick’s Movement And Still Won’t Give Him A Chance

The league now says it believes that Black Lives Matter, yet Kaepernick still doesn't have an NFL home.
Antoine Bethea (41) and Rashard Robinson (33) of the San Francisco 49ers raise their fists during the national anthem while Eli Harold (58), Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) take a knee on Oct. 2, 2016.
Antoine Bethea (41) and Rashard Robinson (33) of the San Francisco 49ers raise their fists during the national anthem while Eli Harold (58), Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) take a knee on Oct. 2, 2016.
Michael Zagaris via Getty Images

August 2016. That was the first time San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem. No one noticed. Not one person said anything, until a Black reporter (this is why diversity matters) asked Kaepernick if his remaining seated during the patriotic song had political meaning. It did.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Before Kaepernick took a knee, Michael Brown happened. Tamir Rice happened. Walter Scott, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile all happened. Black America was still in the bargaining phase of grief. We were willing to barter our way to humankind; literally negotiating with systemic racism, yelling, “Aren’t I a person, too?” Black Lives Matter was never a rallying cry against humanity, it was always a petition for it. It was as much a statement as it was a question. It was less authoritative and more rhetorical, because at the rate that Black blood was being spilled, Black America needed to know if our lives meant anything to the people who were killing us.

After Kaepernick’s protest Stephon Clark happened. Breonna Taylor happened. And then, George Floyd happened.

On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for some nine minutes and America couldn’t look away. Whatever excuses Americans could make as to why Tamir Rice was shot and killed, or how many items Micheal Brown allegedly took from a corner store before his death, they couldn’t make sense of an officer kneeling on the neck of a man who literally begged for his life.

It’s amazing that the story of America’s racist history can be boiled down to two knees: one kneeling against injustice and the other literally on the neck of a Black man until he died.

The NFL like much of corporate America was forced to make a decision: admit that Black Lives Matter or quickly find itself on the wrong side of history. Everyone caved. They always do. But not because they cared. They just didn’t want to lose money.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released an 81-second video filmed in the basement of his home in Bronxville, New York, basically stating that Colin Kaepernick was right all along.

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people,” Goodell said, in what can only be considered the biggest act of bullshit known to man. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter.”

The end zone at SoFi Stadium reads "End Racism" during the first quarter between the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions on Oct. 24, 2021, in Inglewood, California.
The end zone at SoFi Stadium reads "End Racism" during the first quarter between the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions on Oct. 24, 2021, in Inglewood, California.
Katelyn Mulcahy via Getty Images

The NFL didn’t just acknowledge systematic racism toward Black people. It started a social justice program and pledged some $250 million over 10 years to combat it.

Yes, Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, the same league in which at least seven owners donated $1 million to Donald Trump, claimed and committed money to ending systemic racism, and then continued to systematically oppress Colin Kaepernick.

Of course, the league didn’t come right out and say that it was systematically oppressing Kaepernick. Teams kept coming up with excuses, like he didn’t want to play anymore or he wouldn’t be a backup, to explain why Kaepernick wasn’t the right fit.

On Monday, free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, 34, single-handedly dispelled every myth that the National Football League has used to argue why the socially conscious former gunslinger is no longer in the league.

In a rare interview, Kaepernick, appearing on the popular “I AM ATHLETE podcast hosted by Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson and Pacman Jones, told the former NFL players that he still wants to play.

“Absolutely,” Kaepernick said. “That’s without question. To your point, what you saw out here, that’s five years of training behind the scenes, to make sure I’m ready and stay ready at the highest level. You don’t do that if you don’t have a passion, [if] you don’t believe you’re gonna find a way on that field.”

But what about the rumor that Kaepernick would not play the backup quarterback position? Kaepernick claims that was never true.

“I know I have to find my way back in,” Kaepernick said. “So, yeah, if I have to come in as a backup, that’s fine. But that’s not where I’m staying. And when I prove that I’m a starter, I want to be able to step on the field as such. I just need that opportunity to walk through the door. ... More than anything, we’re just looking for a chance to walk through a door. I’ll handle the rest from there.”

So if Kaepernick wants to play and is willing to play for the league minimum and serve as a backup, then why isn’t he in the NFL?

“No team’s brought me in for a workout,” Kaepernick said. “No team has brought me in for an opportunity. I had the one meeting with Seattle in 2017. And out of that, [coach] Pete Carroll said, ‘Hey, he’s a starter, we have a starter.’ And things moved on from there. But they don’t have a starter right now.”

And yet there have been no talks of Kaepernick finding an NFL home. There have been no scheduled workouts, no looks at him backing up a quarterback. Nothing.

But NFL knows that it wouldn’t be this socially conscious or connected had it not been for Kaepernick’s protest.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the work Colin and other players have led off,” a person close to the league told NFL.com. “That is a key point here. We listened to our players. We needed to listen more, we needed to move faster. We heard them and launched a social justice platform because of what Colin was protesting about. The players have always been an essential piece of this effort and this campaign. It would be awesome to engage Colin on some of the work we are doing. He’s doing real impactful work. Getting him in some way would be amazing for us. There’s a lot of work to do to get to that point. We’re certainly open and willing to do that.”

So then what gives?

White Lives Matter.

Despite white people having a less avid NFL fan base than Black people, the league would still rather cater to those white fans who may be offended by having a socially conscious quarterback on the field.

And remember, the NFL and Kaepernick are now supposedly on the same team. They both believe that Black Lives Matter, they both believe that systemic racism not only exists but oppresses Black people, and they both have committed themselves to change.

“You have ‘End Racism’ in the back of your end zone,” Kaepernick said. “You have ‘Black Lives Matter’ on your helmet. Everything I’ve said should be in alignment with what you’re saying publicly. It’s a $16 billion business. When I first took a knee, my jersey went to No. 1. When I did the deal with Nike, their value increased by $6 billion. Six billion. With a ‘b.’ ... So if you’re talking about the business side, it shows [it’s] beneficial. If you’re talking about the playing side, come in [and] let me compete. You can evaluate me from there. The NFL’s supposed to be a meritocracy. Come in, let me compete. If I’m not good enough, get rid of me. But let me come in and show you.”

That won’t happen because the NFL keeps fumbling the ball on race. Often on purpose. The league is currently being sued by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who, back in February, accused the league and its 32 teams of hosting sham interviews and discriminating against Black coaches. Flores has since been hired as an assistant coach by Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin (one of three Black head coaches in the NFL) and the league is still trying to send its top lawyers to quell the notion that the NFL is not exactly what it appears to be.

Meanwhile, Kaepernick is out here waiting, hoping that someone will take a chance on him to prove that he can still play. And it’s funny, because after all the years, the NFL is looking more and more like America’s most racist sport, especially now that NASCAR has more Black race car owners than the NFL has Black head coaches.

But please, NFL, tell me more about systemic racism and how bad it is.

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