Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

NFL Still Shunning Colin Kaepernick Because of His Politics, Not His Play

Mike Freeman
       

This is the last time I will write about Colin Kaepernick until he signs or retires, whichever comes first. Writing about Kaepernick, who still awaits a job offer after opting out of his deal with the 49ers to become a free agent in March, takes years from your life. Sniffing glue through a straw while submerged in a pool of methane is healthier. 

When you tweet about Kaepernick, clowns, socially backward people and Twitter users with green frogs in their avi tweet back. You argue with friends and non-friends alike. Professional journalists you used to respect tell you that you're dumb. (And while I am dumb, I'm not on this.)

Kaepernick, in many ways, continues to dominate the offseason. Mention his name to teams—even nowand you may be subject to a curse-filled rant. This happened after I tweeted about Kaepernick this week. My phone blew up with texts from team executives saying Kaepernick betrayed his country by shunning the national anthem. This is not the first time general managers and others in the league have said this to me. It won't be the last.

The tweet stirred fans as well, prompting thousands (and counting) of likes and led to an outpouring of both support and vitriol toward Kaepernick from fans. All this for a player who isn't even in the league.

The reason Kaepernick still hasn't been signed, I've been told by dozens of team officials this week, is because of the political stance he took in not standing for the flag last season to protest racial inequality. Believe that. Or don't. It's up to you.

Why does this story still affect us the way it does? Kaepernick is planning to stand for the anthem this fall. He spent a day handing out suits at a New York City parole office. Yet everyone remains hardened in their positions on him, refusing to leave their various corners on it.

Part of the answer is in Peter King's recent MMQB.com column, in which 49ers officials told him they believe Kaepernick preferred activism to playing football. The report caused a huge reaction on social media, leading The Nation's Dave Zirin to contact Kaepernick, who told Zirin explicitly he wanted to still play. Zirin posted Kaepernick's response on Twitter.

It was a fascinating moment. A team tried to create a false narrative about Kaepernick, and he responded almost in real time. Zirin's post sparked yet another discussion on social media that veered beyond football and into politics and issues of social justice. 

Kaepernick remains one of the notable stories in football because he wasn't, and isn't, just a football story. He is a mirror for our political views and sense of self. In many ways, he's become a tool used by both sides of America's left-right divide.

Left-leaning NFL fans (and non-fans) see Kaepernick as being shunned by the NFL for taking a knee during the anthem; right-leaning folks see him as a washed-up player. The middle ground, as it does in so many cases in America, gets drowned out.

Kaepernick has found himself at the middle of all of the things we fight over, on the field, and off of it.

This story won't go away despite Kaepernick being forced to. For now, at least. That being the case, I've spent the last few months trying to find out where this tale goes next and made five key discoveries:

• First, a league source tells me there have been no substantive contract discussions with Kaepernick. He hasn't demanded a big contract because there have been no discussions of one.

Would Kaepernick accept a backup role? It's a moot point because he hasn't been asked about it. 

 Second, four team executives told me they believe Kaepernick will eventually sign, but only if there is a rash of injuries at the position.

 Third, Kaepernick will keep doing social justice work. This was his message to Zirin for a story in this week's issue of The Nation. After reading the story, I find it hard not to see Kaepernick, who has never been arrested or in legal trouble of any kind—as anything other than an exemplary person.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

 Fourth, the NFL continues to sign uninspiring retreads or blah talents at quarterback instead of Kaepernick. The list is long, and we don't need to get into it. Yet it's difficult to believe the lie—and that's what it is—that Kaepernick isn't being signed because he stinks, and not because of his political stance.

It's difficult to argue that Kaepernick isn't being signed because of his previous political stance when this week, as ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported, the Cardinals signed Blaine Gabbert. Kaepernick leads Gabbert in every significant passing category, including a career passing rating of 88.9 to Gabbert's 71.5.

I believe we are seeing—as the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami put it—a disinformation campaign against Kaepernick in order to keep him blackballed from football, and that blackballing will only end if a number of teams lose quarterbacks and get desperate.

There are a lot of dummies falling for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick.

 Lastly, Kaepernick will continue to serve as one of the symbols of our divide. Even President Donald Trump recognized this when he spoke about Kaepernick in March.

So, yes, this is the last time I will write about Colin Kaepernick until he signs or retires. It won't be the last time for others. Because Kaepernick is now part of our political discourse.

Even though he's just a quarterback.

And I just lost another friend over this.

         

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.