My view of the Colin Kaepernick caper is straightforward. If Kaepernick truly holds America in contempt for its alleged “oppress[ion] [of] black people and people of color,” then it makes sense for him to refuse to stand for the National Anthem, and obviously he has that right. (People who say they agree, to one extent or another, with Kaepernick’s critique of policing but that he should have found a different way to express himself probably don’t share his contempt for America.)
Equally, it makes sense for people who don’t hold America in contempt to criticize Kaepernick for his expression of contempt and for people who love America to criticize him harshly. We have that right.
I find the football side of the caper more interesting than the political side. Kaepernick was once a good NFL quarterback, but lately he hasn’t been. His passer rating reached a high of 98.3 in 2012 (quite good) and was 91.6 the next year (good). (Note: this rating is not a scale of 1-100.)
Last year, his rating was 78.5 (not good at all). His contribution running the ball has also diminished, though not as dramatically.
This year, San Francisco’s new coach, Chip Kelly, does not seem very impressed with Kaepernick. It looks like he’ll probably lose the starting job.
Kaepernick is no worse than the second best QB the 49ers have. Kelly has said as much. But Kaepernick’s place on the roster isn’t secure.
Why? Because the 49ers will owe him $14.5 million next season if he is still with the club in March (I believe) or if at that time he can’t play due to injury.
This is almost the exact situation the Washington Redskins experienced with Robert Griffin last year. They responded by keeping Griffin on the team until the date he would have been due his big money, but never let him near the field where he might be hurt. The Redskins elected not to cut Griffin, which would have freed up a roster spot, possibly because the team’s owner likes him.
Kaepernick may not be liked by the powers-the-be for reasons having nothing to do with his expression of contempt for America. After San Francisco tried to trade Kaepernick in the offseason, he didn’t speak to the team’s general manager until early in training camp. At that point, the GM called their talk a “good conversation.” Kaepernick called it “a conversation.”
Given Kaepernick’s conditional big money guarantee, cutting him would probably be a good business decision. However, unlike the Redskins, who had Colt McCoy as a backup quarterback to Kirk Cousins, the 49ers may not have a decent backup option other than Kaepernick. The two candidates are veteran Christian Ponder (who recently joined the team off the street) and rookie late round pick Jeff Driskell.
The 49ers are rebuilding, though. They’re not likely to have much success this year if Kaepernick is pressed into service at quarterback, though no one can say this for sure. On balance, risking an injury to the guy doesn’t seem worth the marginal value of keeping him as a backup unless the team holds him higher regard than it appears to.
Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem might add a new wrinkle to this saga. Some have speculated that if the 49ers cut him now, they will face a backlash for alleged political retaliation. It will be said in some quarters that the Niners are disrespecting the Black Lives Matter movement and, by extension, black lives.
I have no idea whether the team is susceptible to this sort of political concern. I would think not.
However, I believe it’s legitimate to ask whether Kaepernick’s sudden decision not to stand for the Anthem may have been influenced by football concerns. After all, pro athletes have been expressing their outrage with allegedly racist policing even since Michael Brown supposedly said “hands up, don’t shoot.” And to my knowledge, nothing important has happened on the Black Lives Matter front since the 49ers opened the preseason a few weeks ago.
Why, then, did Kaepernick wait until the start of the third preseason game to express his contempt for America? Did it suddenly dawn on him that blacks get stopped a lot and occasionally shot by the police?
Maybe. But I don’t think we should rule out three other motives, the first two of which strike me as more likely than the third: (1) his frustration with his status on the team spilled over, (2) he wanted attention, and (3) he was trying to make it more difficult for the Niners to cut him.
San Francisco’s final preseason game will be the 28th annual “Salute to the Military” game in San Diego. If, as expected, Kaepernick doesn’t stand for the Anthem in that particular game, this story will continue to resonate. To the extent that Kaepernick wants ongoing attention, that wish will be fulfilled.