Sitting in the presence of a Commissioner who has said that football teams make decisions based only on winning football games, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made it abundantly clear that his organization is considering non-football factors in connection with the possible addition of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It’s the closest any NFL executive has come to admitting that Kaepernick’s status is influenced by concerns regarding public and fan reaction to signing him.
The issue arose at a fan forum on Sunday, when someone asked Bisciotti whether he’s concerned that adding Kaepernick would hurt the team’s “brand.”
“We’ve very sensitive to it and we’re monitoring it, and we’re still, as [General Manager] Ozzie [Newsome] said, scrimmaging it,” Bisciotti said, via the team’s official website. “So pray for us.”
Bisciotti also addressed the inherent presumption within the question that signing someone who protested during the national anthem throughout 2016 would harm the team’s image.
“Quantify hurting the brand,” Bisciotti said. “I know that we’re going to upset some people, and I know that we’re going to make people happy that we stood up for somebody that has the right to do what he did. Non-violent protesting is something that we have all embraced. I don’t like the way he did it. Personally, I kind of liked it a lot when he went from sitting to kneeling. I don’t know, I’m Catholic, we spend a lot of time kneeling.”
Of course, with Kaepernick committed to standing for the anthem in 2017, the question isn’t whether having a guy who kneels for the anthem will harm the team’s brand. It’s whether having a guy who previously kneeled for the anthem will harm the team’s brand. In a league where dog fighters and drunk drivers and domestic abusers and alleged killers get second chances all the time, the guy who did nothing wrong can’t get a second chance that he shouldn’t need.
“Talk to your neighbors and your friends and your co-workers, because I think you’ll get the same sense that I got, which is every time I hear something negative, I hear something positive and sometimes it shocks me who it’s coming from,” Bisciotti said. “I hope we do what is best for the team and balance that with what’s best for the fans. Your opinions matter to us, and we couldn’t get a consensus on it in [this room] either.”
That’s an honest, frank, and candid assessment, provided by Bisciotti with Commissioner Roger Goodell in attendance. And it directly conflicts with Goodell’s past insistence that teams consider only football impact when deciding whether to sign football players.
“[A]ll [teams] want to get better,” Goodell said last month. “And if they see an opportunity to get better as a football team, they’re going to do it. They’re going to do whatever it takes to make their football team better. So those are football decisions. They’re made all the time. I believe that if a football team feels that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, is going to improve that team, they’re going to do it.”
Bisciotti’s comments make it clear that this isn’t the case. For Bisciotti and the Ravens, it’s about determining (and balancing) fan reaction against football considerations — and by expressly inviting fans to chime in.
Consider that one in light of the team’s history. After linebacker Ray Lewis faced murder charges and then pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with a pair of killings for which no one was ever brought to justice, the Ravens embraced him without giving it a second thought — and without considering or soliciting fan input.
Ditto for running back Ray Rice. Over a period of months, the team stubbornly defended Rice despite knowing that he’d knocked out his future wife in an Atlantic City elevator, staging along the way a shameful press conference during which the victim apologized for her roll in getting knocked out. Only after video evidence let everyone see with their eyes that which they should have been able to envision with their minds did the Ravens cut the cord on Rice.
While Lewis and Rice already were working for the team when they did cross the line regarding what the law allows, Kaepernick broke no laws and violated no rules. Instead, he exercised one of the fundamental rights that all Americans possess — and he has made it clear that he won’t be exercising that right in 2017.
(That said, the Ravens also embraced receiver Donte Stallworth after he killed a man while driving his car under the influence of alcohol. The Ravens signed him without engaging in a public debate regarding whether having him on the team would hurt the brand.)
However the Ravens resolve this one, it’s now abundantly clear that Kaepernick is unemployed in part for reasons unrelated to football. We hope the many fans and media members who insist otherwise will abandon the notion that Kaepernick isn’t on a team because he stinks.