What we see when we look at Kaepernick
You know that in their lush Park Avenue offices, the NFL honchos expected this to have blown over by now.
Their shiny, distracting product would take center stage, they would mint money, and everyone would forget about that unemployed quarterback who has polarized the league and much of society.
But that’s not happening. With the NFL season under way, Colin Kaepernick is not fading into the background. He’s even more prominent. For a few reasons. The first is the overall lousiness of the product the NFL has put out in its first 17 games of the season. The quarterbacking has been wretched, providing a better employment reference for Kaepernick’s skills than any words or petitions or protests.
Second, Kaepernick remains newsworthy, even without a job. The NFLPA, in what seems a clear attempt to rub the league’s nose in the embarrassing situation, just
named Kaepernick its Week 1 Community MVP “for his commitment to empowering underserved communities through donations and grassroots outreach.”
The award is eligible to all who pay dues and are employed by the NFL or who are actively seeking employment as a free agent. And, yes, the Texans’ J.J. Watt already won the award last week for his fundraising on behalf of Hurricane Harvey victims so no blustery outrage, please.
Kaepernick quietly continues to follow through on his pledge to donate $100,000 a month to charitable organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Coalition for the Homeless and after-school youth programs. A recent story in the New York Times detailed some of the awards and the profound shock and gratitude these grassroots charities expressed at being recognized.
Next month’s contribution will bring Kaepernick’s giving in the past calendar year to $1 million. Even without a job, he hasn’t backed away from his pledge.
A third reason Kaepernick is not going away: he has — in a weird way that he never intended — come to define our fractured times. My friend Tim Kawakami of The Athletic calls him a Rorschach test, and that’s the perfect description of the quarterback in today’s America.
One side looks at the No. 7 ink blot and sees an affront to America, the reason the NFL is dying, why our country is troubled, why the presidential election went the way it did.
The other side looks at the ink blot and sees courage, a man who has walked his talk and risked it all, a righteous nonviolent protest. And, oh by the way, that side also looks through the Kaepernick prism and sees the reason the NFL may be dying: due to a presumed blackball of a player who did nothing more than express his opinion.
(Those empty seats for 49ers games at Levi’s? I’ve had hundreds of responses saying it is 1) because their former quarterback disrespected the flag or 2) due to fans boycotting a league that has no room for Kaepernick. Both are incorrect assumptions: the empty seats are primarily the result of a bad team playing in a flawed stadium).
People want Kaepernick to be shorthand for all sorts of things. They interpret the ink blot based on their perceptions. But what is not a subjective psychological test is the woeful performance of so many of the league’s starting quarterbacks in the first weekend-plus of the season. The mediocrity has made Kaepernick’s continued unemployment even more absurd.
Yes, Kaepernick struggled the past couple of seasons. But less than half of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks (13) managed a quarterback rating better that Kaepernick’s career rating of 88.9, and just 12 bettered his 90.7 rating from last season. Granted, some of those are anomalies — Tom Brady’s rating was 70.0 — but overall the quarterback play could be summed up in one word: atrocious.
There were players who had no business starting games in the NFL. Scott Tolzien in Indianapolis already lost his spot. So did Tom Savage in Houston. The worst thing a quarterback can do is throw the ball to the other team: Andy Dalton has done it four times, matching Kaepernick’s total for the entirety of last season.
The player with the highest rating after one week? That would be Alex Smith, the man Kaepernick replaced in San Francisco, who was stunningly good in a victory over the Patriots.
Over the year, Smith has kept his own counsel for the most part, only occasionally letting himself say something off the record about his time with San Francisco. But this week he sat down for an indepth interview with Graham Bensinger on YouTube and spoke honestly. It was a fascinating trip down memory lane for 49ers observers. Among many topics, Smith discussed losing his job to Kaepernick, after being out with a concussion.
“Here I’d dealt with all the dysfunction. I was so excited. I went through all this and then, boom.”
Boom. That’s a decent descriptor of Kaepernick’s entire career to date.
The man has rocked the NFL, shook it to its roots.
Even from the outside, he’s still causing tremors. And, given the way the NFL season is unfolding, it is clear he shouldn’t be on the outside.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has followed through on a pledge to donate $100,000 a month to charity.