For the second time in less than a year, the President has said publicly that he has no issue with Colin Kaepernick playing in the NFL, as long as Kaepernick deserves it. And in explaining that caveat, Donald Trump implies that football reasons, and only football reasons, have kept Kaepernick out.
“If he deserves it, he should,” Trump told Scott Thuman of ABC7 regarding Kaepernick’s potential place on an NFL franchise. But then Trump added this: “If he has the playing ability. He started off great and then he didn’t end up very great in terms as a player.”
The Commander-in-Chief then takes a swing at being a football evaluator.
“He was terrific in his rookie year, I think he was very good in his second year and then something happened,” Trump said.
Actually, Kaepernick didn’t play at all as a rookie. In his second year, he became the starter after Alex Smith suffered a concussion. Kaepernick then nearly led the 49ers to a Super Bowl win. Kaepernick played very well in his third season, earning a significant second contract in June 2014.
Then came a three-year revolving door for the 49ers and Kaepernick, with Jim Harbaugh’s tumultuous last year followed by the only year of Jim Tomsula (who never should have been the head coach) and the only year of Chip Kelly (who never should have been the head coach). Kaepernick emerged from the Tomsula debacle with injuries that required three different surgeries, Kaepernick wasn’t physically ready for the start of the 2016 season, and when he was healthy he replaced Blaine Gabbert and started 11 games. After the 49ers hired Kyle Shanahan, the new regime decided that Kaepernick didn’t fit the offense, and if he hadn’t opted out of his contract the 49ers would have cut him.
“[H]is playing wasn’t up to snuff,” Trump nevertheless said of Kaepernick. “The answer is absolutely I would, as far as kneeling, I would love to see him get another shot. But obviously, he has to be able to play well. If he can’t play well, I think it would be very unfair.”
The notion that Kaepernick isn’t good enough to be on a team isn’t good enough to explain three years of unemployment. The league shunned him in 2017, and the President’s “son-of-a-bitch” assault on kneelers guaranteed that the cold shoulder would continue. Only now, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, does the ice seem to be thawing on the possibility of Kaepernick getting a chance to return as a backup.
This isn’t the first time Trump has said something like this.
“Only if he’s good enough,” Trump said of Kaepernick in August 2019 during one of his South Lawn pre-Marine One press conferences. “If he’s good enough. . . . And I think if he was good enough, I know the owners, I know Bob Kraft, I know so many of the owners. If he’s good enough, they’d sign him. So if he’s good enough — I know these people — they would sign him in a heartbeat. They will do anything they can to win games.”
So, basically, the President is trying to help the NFL make its collective case that Kaepernick hasn’t had a job because he doesn’t deserve one, not because he wrongfully has been denied one. To the extent the NFL wants to break with the man who continues to bristle at kneeling during the anthem as “disrespect” of all things Americans, signing Kaepernick would be the ultimate way to show that the belief that Kaepernick isn’t “up to snuff” isn’t “up to snuff.”