Almost four years ago, rising prodigal quarterback Colin Kaepernick politely attempted to clear up some confusion about his nickname.
PSA: Just for clarity it’s Kap not Kaep
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 7, 2013
Fast forward to the present and except for the 49ers’ fanbase and the Bay Area media, most in the football zeitgeist, including wildly respected journalists, still refer to the free agent as “Kaep.” While hardly an egregious gaffe‑-after all Kaep is the far more logical nickname–it is a microcosm of his reality.
When it comes to Kaepernick, facts don’t really matter. From a racist column about his cascade of tattoos not embodying leadership to the President of the United States taunting him for being unpatriotic, the soundtrack to Kap’s career has been a steady stream of narratives that fit someone’s agenda, not the truth.
Myth #1: Not standing for the anthem makes Kaepernick unpatriotic.
For almost 16 years now, since that fateful day of September 11, 2001, the NFL’s propaganda machine has wrapped itself in the American flag, both spiritually and literally. In the league’s acute cultural bubble the national anthem serves to invoke patriotism, the core of which is honoring military personnel. Thus the NFL’s strategic messaging makes it impossible for so many to see the possibility of nuance when it comes to what to flag may represent to others. When Kaepernick knelt last year it was not to protest a war or our military’s budget, but because of perceived injustices in America’s police system.
“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 told NFL Network last August. “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.”
What on earth is unpatriotic and un-American about standing up for those who are oppressed? The fiber of our nation is supposed to be free speech and embracing freedom from tyranny. Yet it’s so much easier to hurl names and toss Kaepernick in the traitor bin than to try and understand the complexities of why someone might look at the flag, hear the anthem and not instantaneously be overcome with nationalistic pride.
Myth #2: Kaepernick’s protesting caused strife in the 49ers locker room and will therefore do the same in any future locker room.
When the public first noticed Kaepernick sitting for the anthem it was so stunning and so against the fabric of the NFL’s militant conformity that the common consensus was not if Kaepernick would be shunned from the organization but when. What followed was anything but.
Head coach Chip Kelly shut down an agenda-filled local columnist when pressed about the appropriateness of Kaepernick discussing the protests during postgame media availability.
“Well, I think it’s an issue. You look at what’s gone on in Tulsa and Charlotte in the last two nights; it’s an issue that’s at the forefront of our country in that it needs to be addressed, it needs to be taken care of because what’s going on is not right,” Kelly said last September. “I think, again, he’s shedding light on a situation that is heinous and shouldn’t happen in this country. We all have inalienable rights as a citizen of this country and they’re being violated and that’s what I think Colin is standing up for.”
Kelly’s support was no outlier. Safety Eric Reid and defensive end Eli Harold joined Kaepernick’s protest, also kneeling for the anthem. Owner Jed York matched Kaepernick’s million-dollar donation to community organizations. At season’s end 49ers players selected Kaepernick to receive the prestigious Len Eshmont Award that honors that team’s most courageous player that year. To suggest that this controversy had an impact on the 49ers roster is misguided.
“This story is just a big deal to you guys [media], no one in the locker room cares,” said a member of the 49ers organization last year. If there was palpable strife in the 49ers’ locker room, it stemmed from losing, lack of talent, and front office leaks, not Kaepernick.
Myth #3: Kaepernick’s kneeling was a publicity stunt.
Kaepernick’s progression has come with its share of stumbles. There were the socks depicting police officers as pigs and the admission to not voting in November’s general election. At the time, despite supporting his right to protest, I believed not voting undermined his entire message. I fell into trap. I picked the easier narrative.
The reality is that Kaepernick’s impact has been far more substantive and impactful than any one vote. His activism has been frequent and far-reaching. He has meticulously kept up to date on his Million Dollar Pledge, dispersing $100,000 per month to an array of needy organizations. From the Center for Reproductive Rights to Chicago’s Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Kaepernick meticulously documents where the money is going. He regularly shows up at schools to share his Know Your Rights campaign, letting underprivileged children know they have a “right to be loved, a right to be trusted and a right to be alive.”
As Kaepernick’s activism has evolved his efforts have gone global. He added his voice to a successful effort to enlist Turkish Airlines to send a plane with 60 tons of food to poverty-stricken Somalia. Follow any of Kaepernick’s social media feeds and it’s instantaneously clear that his altruism trumps his football celebrity.
Myth #4: Kaepernick can’t play anymore.
Clearly Kaepernick is not Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or even Andy Dalton at this point. He’s no longer on track for anything in particular, and it’s likely his best days–the ones that led to a Super Bowl berth–are behind him. But the raw talent is still undeniable, and at 29 there should theoretically be plenty of playing days ahead, particularly given the paucity of available quarterbacking talent in the league
“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,” former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told PFT Live Tuesday.
Many Kaepernick observers last season saw only a protester on a team racking up losses in spades. But beneath the clouds, Kaepernick showed glimpses of his former self on several occasions after resuming the starting job in Week 6. While hardly a game changer, Kaepernick displayed renewed efficiency with 10 touchdowns to 3 interceptions in his first six starts. Moreover, he often displayed wizardry on the ground, particularly in a Week 12 tilt against Miami in which he ran for 113 yards on 10 carries.
A year ago Broncos general manager John Elway invited Kaepernick to his Colorado home for dinner to vet the quarterback for a possible trade. Elway never made a deal, but the inquiry illustrates Kaepernick’s wildly intriguing and unique skill set.
Perhaps Kaepernick’s price is simply too high at the moment. But his name has hardly been uttered in the quarterback-thirsty confines of New York and Cleveland. All while future Hall of Famers Geno Smith, Josh McCown and E.J. Manuel have secured deals with ease.
Perhaps the only truth lies in a mindboggling reality.
An AFC executive told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman over the weekend that a few teams fear backlash for signing Kaepernick because “Trump will tweet about the team.” Between one of his rounds of golf, while Kaepernick was sending aid to a country devastated by famine, this news trickled to the social media bully that happens to be our President.
A pure ebullient joy overtook a background of (mainly white) Trump supporters in Kentucky on Monday as the President of the United States bragged about derailing a football player’s career. To them, somehow a man who is dedicating his life to eradicating social injustice is worthy of booing. To them, a man who doesn’t look like them, doesn’t use the same vernacular and certainly doesn’t play football like their grandpas’ did is the enemy.
This is Kap’s reality.