Colin Kaeper­nick re­mains un­em­ployed since an­them protests. Is the NFL freez­ing him out? There’s a di­ver­sity of opin­ion.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - SAM FARMER

He’s the most talked-about NFL player, yet freeagent quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick doesn’t even have a team.

He re­mains a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure, a mar­tyr to some, mal­con­tent to oth­ers, and light­ning rod for vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one since he took a knee dur­ing the na­tional an­them in the name of protest­ing so­cial in­jus­tices.

Ear­lier this month, Seat­tle Sea­hawks cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man told USA To­day that the for­mer San Fran­cisco 49ers star “may not be the best, but he’s bet­ter than a lot of th­ese dudes start­ing.”

“Now if you told me this guy threw eight pick-sixes last year and played like a bum, had no tal­ent, that’s one thing,” Sher­man told the news­pa­per. “But [Tampa Bay backup] Ryan Fitzpatrick, [Bal­ti­more backup] Ryan Mal­lett or who­ever is play­ing for the Jets right now — who­ever is start­ing for the Jets is ter­ri­ble — have jobs. You’re telling me fans would rather you lose and put a worse player out there be­cause a guy took a stand? That’s where it’s so trou­ble­some to me.”

Point­ing out Kaeper­nick had 16 touch­down passes and four in­ter­cep­tions in Chip Kelly’s of­fense last sea­son, Sher­man said the rea­son the quar­ter­back doesn’t have a job is the protests. “What is it about?” Sher­man said. “It’s not about foot­ball or color. It’s about, ‘Boy, stay in your place.’ ”

While I do be­lieve the kneel­ing protest and oth­ers — the Fidel Cas­tro T-shirt, the socks de­pict­ing po­lice of­fi­cers as pigs — have com­pletely dis­suaded some NFL own­ers from sign­ing Kaeper­nick,

[Farmer, I do not be­lieve own­ers have col­luded with each other on that. With most, if they felt he was a player they needed to win, they would sign him.

What’s more, I think Kaeper­nick will be in the league by mid­sea­son, if not ear­lier, de­pend­ing on which quar­ter­backs get hurt — some­thing that al­ways hap­pens.

But this is a com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted is­sue, one that in many ways tran­scends sports. For dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives I spoke to six peo­ple in and around the NFL for their views.

That group is com­posed of:

War­ren Moon, the first African Amer­i­can quar­ter­back in the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame;

John Wooten, long­time chair­man of the Fritz Pol­lard Al­liance, an ad­vo­cacy group for the hir­ing of mi­nori­ties for coach­ing, scout­ing and front-of­fice po­si­tions;

Hall of Fame re­ceiver Tim Brown, a team cap­tain for the ma­jor­ity of his ca­reer with the Raiders;

An NFL team per­son­nel ex­ec­u­tive who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity in or­der to be as can­did as pos­si­ble;

For­mer New York Gi­ants re­ceiver Phil McCon­key, a grad­u­ate of the Naval Academy who served four years as a he­li­copter pi­lot, and whose fa­ther was a po­lice of­fi­cer in Buf­falo, N.Y.;

Leg­endary player agent Leigh Stein­berg.

War­ren Moon

Cer­tain teams don’t want to deal with the back­lash of bring­ing him in. There is go­ing to be a lot of con­tro­versy, a lot of dis­trac­tion for their play­ers to have to an­swer those types of ques­tions. In train­ing camp, teams just want things to be as nor­mal as they pos­si­bly can be. That’s part of it.

You’ve also got to re­mem­ber there’s a lot of quar­ter­backs that teams are try­ing to de­velop right now. You look at what hap­pened in the draft. There were four quar­ter­backs who went in the first two rounds this year. That elim­i­nates four teams right there, be­cause you’re not go­ing to bring in a backup and put him ahead of one of th­ese first- or sec­ond-rounders that you just signed to de­velop.

And then there’s cer­tain of­fenses that he just can’t play in. He’s just not good enough to play in those types of of­fenses where you have to re­ally go through your read pro­gres­sions, throw­ing the ball down the field.

But I still think as soon as one of th­ese starters goes down — and that’s one of the rea­sons the Sea­hawks brought him in, not so much to have him as a backup. They brought him in to see how Colin Kaeper­nick was, see how ded­i­cated he was to foot­ball. Be­cause if some­thing hap­pened to Rus­sell Wil­son and they needed a veteran to come in and win games, then they would go af­ter some­body like him. Be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ence and he fits into some of the things they do of­fen­sively.

What hap­pens a lot of times is the first three weeks or so, when teams come out of train­ing camp, and now all of a sud­den th­ese de­fenses are blitz­ing and do­ing all th­ese ex­otic things you haven’t seen in the pre­sea­son, that’s when quar­ter­backs start get­ting hit the most. That’s when quar­ter­backs go down early.

John Wooten

I think that what­ever he did, he did it in terms of try­ing to protest what was hap­pen­ing to black peo­ple in this coun­try for years and years and years. Not just here re­cently. But just the way it’s been.

I doubt if there’s a black man over 45 years old who has not had a shot­gun or a pis­tol pointed at his head from a po­lice­man. In­clud­ing the guy you’re talk­ing to right now. Be­cause that is the way things hap­pen, and as I told my son . . . “If you’re stopped, or a po­lice­man ap­proaches you, you put your hands up, and you say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and, ‘No, sir.’ Do not get into, ‘Well, why did you stop me? What’s go­ing on?’ Be­cause if you are ly­ing there dead, there’s noth­ing I can do. So you get your hands up and keep them up un­til the in­ci­dent, or what­ever, is re­solved.”

Now, you can say that’s a shame that black kids and peo­ple have to put up with that, but that’s the way that is. Be­cause I felt that Kaeper­nick was deal­ing with that, as to what he was try­ing to do, I ap­proached his peo­ple telling them that we can help him. We can help him just as we did Muham­mad Ali in 1967, when Jim Brown said, “Get the guys to­gether. We’ve got to go and help the champ.”

We talked to his agent, who said that he had al­ready said what he had to say. I said, “He hasn’t said it to the Amer­i­can pub­lic. He needs to speak to them, and more so, he needs to speak to the own­ers and the coaches and the gen­eral man­agers and say, “This is what I was try­ing to do. I un­der­stand it. I said what I had to say. I will for­ever stand on what is right in this coun­try, be­cause I love this coun­try.”

Tim Brown

Ob­vi­ously, if he’s good enough to play in the league, he should be in the league. Yeah, he’s prob­a­bly gone down a lit­tle bit in the last few years, but he def­i­nitely should have a job in the NFL with some of th­ese other quar­ter­backs that are out there, no doubt about it.

But I think this is a valu­able les­son for him. You’re not big­ger than the NFL. Cer­tain things you re­ally need to talk to peo­ple about be­fore you do. This was big enough that he should have sought the ad­vice of team­mates, coaches, own­er­ship, for­mer play­ers, some­body, be­fore he did what he did.

He just put him­self in a po­si­tion where it’s me ver­sus the world, and some­times you lose that bat­tle. His mes­sage prob­a­bly got through, so I guess he’s happy about that. He’s had sev­eral guys around the league join him. But it could have pos­si­bly cost him his ca­reer.

If he would have spo­ken to me about it, I would have ad­vised him not to do it. My feel­ing is, don’t do it dur­ing a foot­ball game with­out the own­er­ship know­ing. If I was own­er­ship, I would have said, “Hey, man, you cer­tainly have a right to do what­ever you want to do, but can you wait un­til the game is over with and do that out­side the sta­dium? Protest­ing the na­tional an­them is not one of the things I pay you to do.”

When you take those hard stances, you’ve got to be ready for the con­se­quences. There are a lot of peo­ple who are on his side right now, and I get it.

NFL team ex­ec­u­tive

The main thing is, no one wants the dis­trac­tion. Is this guy good enough to bring in and be a dis­trac­tion? I would say maybe if your guy got hurt. Maybe he’d be a guy we’d bring in. But, one, he’d be a dis­trac­tion. Two, you’ve got to change ev­ery­thing you do on of­fense.

Does he re­ally love ball? Does he re­ally work at it? I don’t know that. He’s not a nat­u­ral type of pocket passer. He throws a very hard ball to catch. He throws a lot of fast­balls, not a lot of touch. He was good when they had a good of­fen­sive line to run the ball like crazy, and the best de­fense in the league. So there are mul­ti­ple is­sues to sign­ing him. He’s not good enough to tol­er­ate, ba­si­cally.

Teams are pretty so­phis­ti­cated. We have Twit­ter peo­ple who give us that stuff. They’re not real fired up on that. Who are you go­ing to of­fend? You’re go­ing to of­fend half your fan base? Any­where you go, you’re go­ing to of­fend the po­lice. Mi­ami, you’re go­ing to of­fend the Cuban com­mu­nity, with him wear­ing the Cas­tro shirt. It’s a lot of [stuff]. It’s not just one thing.

Phil McCon­key

I think you’re go­ing to get di­ver­sity of opin­ions from mil­i­tary peo­ple. The ma­jor­ity of them will say, ‘Hey, that’s why we do it, for peo­ple to have the right to ex­press their views freely.’ So as a mil­i­tary per­son it re­ally didn’t of­fend me.

But I have a dad who’s a cop, and I know how lov­ing and com­pas­sion­ate my dad is. It’s a re­ally tough sit­u­a­tion.

Me per­son­ally, all I could think about was dis­trac­tions. I looked at it from the per­spec­tive of be­ing in­side of a locker room. Some teams are fine with it, I guess. Seat­tle, they have a lot of out­spo­ken guys.

I want my quar­ter­back, es­pe­cially my start­ing quar­ter­back, to have ev­ery bit of his fiber into this game. All the prepa­ra­tion dur­ing the week. I don’t want his mind on some­thing that’s very con­tro­ver­sial, that’s go­ing to bring at­ten­tion to the team, and ev­ery­body’s go­ing to be talk­ing about that.

There are 52 other guys on the team. What do they think? That, I think, is the big­ger rea­son he’s not on a ros­ter.

Leigh Stein­berg

I ad­mire the courage of Colin Kaeper­nick in rais­ing an is­sue. As a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, plac­ing him has some dif­fi­cul­ties. Be­cause does he re­ally want to start over again at a min­i­mum salary? And the an­swer seems to be no.

Where’s the best op­por­tu­nity for Kaeper­nick to re­build his ca­reer? I don’t rep­re­sent him, but I will tell you that many times we take re­duced one-year con­tracts to put some­one in the ideal po­si­tion to suc­ceed.

Do­ing his stance on the flag was one thing. Had he been my client I would have ad­vised him to do that out­side the sta­dium. There are numer­ous ways to ex­press free speech, and I en­cour­age play­ers to ex­press them­selves.

They can write an ar­ti­cle. They can march in a rally. They can do­nate money. They can give in­ter­views. Do­ing it in a sta­dium is a slip­pery slope to me.

Lynne Sladky As­so­ci­ated Press

NO LONGER an NFL mem­ber in good stand­ing, quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick stirred con­tro­versy last year by kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them to protest so­cial in­jus­tice.

Ezra Shaw Getty Im­ages

KNEEL­ING dur­ing the na­tional an­them made Colin Kaeper­nick (7), here joined by Eric Reid, a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure. His solid play for 49ers last year was over­looked.

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