Colin Kaepernik’s patience has been rewarded. He is now being discussed in the same breathe as Jackie Robinson and Cassius Clay. But that’s only because we either have short memories or never understood the objection in the first place.
When Kaepernik kneeled before the flag during the national anthem’s to start his NFL games, people were very upset. Many stopped watching the NFL as the kneeling propagated across the league. Some even spoke out against Kaepernik.
Kaepernik supporters thought that the objections came from people who thought he should shut up, or that he didn’t have a right to speak his mind. They thought the critics were racist, or maybe just didn’t see the problem.
Then Kaepernik opted out of his contract in 2017 and became a free agent. Since then, no NFL team has signed him, which has many believing the NFL is colluding to keep him out of the league.
But it seems way too many people are forgetting what the objection was really all about.
No one thought, or thinks now, that Kaepernik doesn’t have the right to speak his mind. He most certainly does, and good for him for doing so. But as an employee he doesn’t. Or, more specifically he does, just as he has the right to be fired for poor performance.
Kaepernik had access to the national stage because an NFL team offered to give him money in exchange for his services as quarterback. I’m confident there was nothing in his contracts that said the team is paying him to take a political stand during a game.
Standing for the national anthem is an expectation of every American professional athlete. It’s a show of respect for the country that provided the freedom allowing for best-in-class athletes to get paid for their skills and talents. It also reminds both teams and everyone in the stands that we’re all ultimately unified by our allegiance to freedom, represented by our flag.
Colin Kaepernik is allowed to be ashamed of his country all he wants. He can even move, if that’s what’s best for him. But people don’t want to see him, or anyone else, kneel during the anthem.
Sports is a reprieve from the politics and divisions in this country. Professional sports leagues rightly understand that if those things bleed over into the games, the games will become politicized, and the escape everyone gets from the day-to-day will be gone.
I’m confident Kaepernik would have been fine protesting all he wanted outside of the game, and outside of his uniform. But the 49ers didn’t pay him to protest the flag in a 49er uniform, which is essentially in the name of the team. They didn’t sign him to make any part of the game about him.
It may be a subtle distinction to some, but let’s all understand why Kaepernik doesn’t have a job right now. It’s not because anyone is trying to censor him or is driven by racism. It’s not because the league doesn’t care about Kaepernik’s cause (which they may or may not, but they certainly don’t have to).
Kaepernik doesn’t have a job because he’s a distraction from the game, a distraction from him team, and a distraction from his teammates. And an employer has every right to remove people who are a distraction or a cancer to the team.
Just so we’re clear on why Kaepernik ended up out of the NFL and probably won’t return…