The rea­son Kaeper­nick doesn’t have a job

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Opinion - JOHN M. CRISP John M. Crisp, an op-ed colum­nist for Tri­bune News Ser­vice, teaches in the English Depart­ment at Del Mar Col­lege in Cor­pus Christi, Texas. Read­ers may send him email at jcrisp@del­mar.edu.

For­mer San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick was in the news last week, in a story that gives me a nag­ging, un­easy feel­ing about the health of our repub­lic.

Kaeper­nick is the pro­fes­sional foot­ball player who ex­pe­ri­enced con­sid­er­able no­to­ri­ety last sea­son by de­clin­ing to stand dur­ing the pregame ren­di­tion of the na­tional an­them. He was protest­ing the history of racism in our coun­try, as well as its cur­rent man­i­fes­ta­tions. In the spring, Kaeper­nick ex­er­cised his free agency op­tion and left the 49ers.

Last week an­other for­mer 49ers quar­ter­back, Joe Mon­tana, spec­u­lated re­gard­ing the fact that no other team has picked up Kaeper­nick. Only the Seat­tle Sea­hawks gave him a try­out, and they took a pass.

Mon­tana told the Sport­ing News that the rea­son Kaeper­nick isn’t cur­rently in the Na­tional Foot­ball League is that he just isn’t a strong enough player.

I don’t have the foot­ball cre­den­tials to con­tra­dict Mon­tana on this point. He’s a 16sea­son NFL leg­end and Hallof-Famer. Still, peo­ple who know more about foot­ball than I do don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with Mon­tana.

Mike Mof­fitt, writ­ing for SF­Gate, points out that be­fore he de­clined to hire Kaeper­nick, Sea­hawks coach Pete Car­roll called him “a starter in this league.” Fur­ther, the Wash­ing­ton Post has noted that Kaeper­nick is sta­tis­ti­cally su­pe­rior to at least half of the backup quar­ter­backs in the NFL.

And USA To­day re­ported in March that for­mer NFL coach Jim Har­baugh eval­u­ates Kaeper­nick this way: “I think he’s an out­stand­ing player and I think he’s a great com­peti­tor who has proven it in games and has the abil­ity to be not only an NFL starter but a great NFL player.”

Fur­ther­more, in his com­men­tary on Kaeper­nick, Mon­tana sounds sus­pi­ciously equiv­o­cal: He says that Kaeper­nick’s lack of a job “comes down to his play as much as any­thing.”

The “any­thing” here, of course, is the fact that Kaeper­nick re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in a rit­ual that mil­lions ob­serve ev­ery week be­fore foot­ball and base­ball games, as well as rodeos, con­ven­tions, con­vo­ca­tions and com­mence­ments.

So while Mon­tana con­tends that Kaeper­nick just wasn’t good enough for the NFL, the real rea­son seems to re­veal it­self when he con­cedes, “One of the things you don’t look for is dis­trac­tions in the locker room.”

Dis­trac­tions? This is the part that makes me un­easy. Kaeper­nick’s protest was deadly se­ri­ous, far be­yond a dis­trac­tion, and it re­quired courage. The great story of the found­ing of our na­tion is a flimsy half-truth un­less we oc­ca­sion­ally ac­knowl­edge the par­al­lel, dark-side story that African Amer­i­cans con­tinue to live with.

That par­al­lel story may be un­pleas­ant, the sort of thing that we’d pre­fer not to be re­minded of when we’re try­ing to en­joy a foot­ball game. But it’s not the pre­rog­a­tive of white peo­ple to say when or where or how a black man who has a na­tional stage should or should not di­rect our at­ten­tion to that mis­er­able strain of Amer­i­can history.

The right to ex­press an opin­ion without con­se­quence is an in­her­ent Amer­i­can prin­ci­ple. We should al­ways be un­easy when cit­i­zens are pe­nal­ized for fail­ure to com­ply with an ar­bi­trary index on their al­le­giance to our coun­try. Be­fore long, we’re as­sess­ing peo­ple’s pa­tri­o­tism on ex­ter­nals such as whether they’re wear­ing a flag pen or hold­ing their hands over their hearts dur­ing the Pledge of Al­le­giance.

I’m not say­ing that Colin Kaeper­nick chose the best method for call­ing our at­ten­tion to the racial in­jus­tices that still ex­ist in our cul­ture. I’m say­ing that it’s not my place to say how or when he should be able to ex­press him­self. Nor is it yours. Nor is it the NFL’s.

If you think that Kaeper­nick’s protest didn’t take courage, try not stand­ing up the next time you’re in a crowd that rises for the na­tional an­them or the Pledge of Al­le­giance. If Kaeper­nick suf­fers con­se­quences for his ex­pres­sion of an un­pop­u­lar opin­ion, well, it’s hard to think of many other things that are more un-Amer­i­can.

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