Free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick continues to try to get back in the NFL. Toward that end, he recently sat down for a very rare interview with Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson, and Pacman Jones of the I Am Athlete podcast.
The full episode debuts at 12:00 p.m. ET on Monday on the I Am Athlete YouTube channel.
In the interview, Kaepernick addresses several lingering questions that seem to be keeping him from getting an opportunity with an NFL team. For starters, does he want to play football?
“Absolutely,” Kaepernick said. “That’s without question. To your point, what you saw out here, that’s five years of training behind the scenes, to make sure I’m ready and stay ready at the highest level. You don’t do that if you don’t have a passion, [if] you don’t believe you’re gonna find a way on that field.”
It’s more than just finding a way onto the field for Kaepernick. He still has the dreams he had when he entered the league.
“It’s a passion,” Kaepernick said. “Like, you had those dreams from when you were a kid. I mean, like, I’m gonna be an NFL player, and I’m gonna win a Super Bowl. And for me, I have unfinished business on that front. I’ve been to the Super Bowl. We were one play away. I need to finish that.”
Brandon Marshall asked Kaepernick if he’s willing to take a minimum-salary position in order to get back in the door.
“I know I have to find my way back in,” Kaepernick said. “So, yeah, if I have to come in as a backup, that fine. But that’s not where I’m staying. And when I prove that I’m a starter, I want to be able to step on the field as such. I just need that opportunity to walk through the door. . . . More than anything, we’re just looking for a chance to walk through a door. I’ll handle the rest from there.”
It’s obvious that Kaepernick has been kept out of football for reasons unrelated to his skills. He’s good enough to be on a roster. He’s good enough to at least compete for a fair chance to start. The NFL has shunned him for reasons unrelated to football; that’s beyond fair debate at this point.
“No team’s brought me in for a workout,” Kaepernick said. “No team has brought me in for an opportunity. I had the one meeting with Seattle in 2017. And out of that, Pete Carroll said, ‘Hey, he’s a starter, we have a starter.’ And things moved on from there. But they don’t have a starter right now.”
But they’re not interested right now, and not because of anything related to football. They’re not interested because teams have consistently opted to tiptoe around the 30-percent chunk of the fanbase that hates Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 season in order to bring attention to police misconduct against minorities.
Brandon Marshall, playing the role of G.M., posed this question to Kaepernick: “What about our fan base? What do we say to our fan base?”
“You have End Racism in the back of your end zone,” Kaepernick said. “You have Black Lives Matter on your helmet. Everything I’ve said should be in alignment with what you’re saying publicly. It’s a $16 billion business. When I first took a knee, my jersey went to No. 1. When I did the deal with Nike, their value increased by six billion dollars. Six billion. With a B. . . . So if you’re talking about the business side, it shows [it’s] beneficial. If you’re talking about the playing side, come in [and] let me compete. You can evaluate me from there. The NFL’s supposed to be a meritocracy. Come in, let me compete. If I’m not good enough, get rid of me. But let me come in and show you.”
It sounds great. But nothing that anyone has said in more than five years has prompted any NFL owner to assume the risk of a revolt by fans who have decided they will not accept Kaepernick on their favorite team (or any team), either because they fail to understand why he exercised his right to protest during the national anthem or because they refuse to accept that someone would raise concerns about the American experience for Black and Brown Americans in that specific way.
Ultimately, it’s a business calculation for the NFL. Five years ago, the league decided that the cost of doing business with Kaepernick outweighs the benefit. They paid him a significant amount of money to settle a collusion claim arising from the allegedly collective effort to keep him out of the league. It’s hard to imagine any team changing course in such a dramatic way now, even if he’s a better quarterback than plenty of guys who currently are employed by NFL teams. (And if you don’t think he is, look at the current depth charts.)
Is it right? No. But the NFL has banked for half of a decade on the fact that those who disagree with the NFL’s refusal to give Kaepernick a job will do far less damage to the bottom line than those who would huff and puff and partially blow the house down if Kaepernick returns to the league. That’s the reason why he’s not on a team. They think they’re making more money by keeping him out than they’d make by letting him back in.
There’s no reason to think that mindset has changed since 2017. Unless and until it does, he’s not getting the opportunity that he has deserved every single day for more than 1,800 days.