Colin Kaepernick is an American. Through and through.
In the midst of a solid NFL career, in which he brought the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, he took a knee. The free agent quarterback knelt for the national anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. He dissented from the masses, and in the face of relentless public scrutiny, he has continued to kneel.
So, the NFL kicked him out of the league.
But now, Kaepernick may have a chance to get back on an NFL roster. On Nov. 16, Kaepernick participated in an NFL-organized tryout in front of representatives of 25 teams in Atlanta. The NFL set the time, date and location, and gave Kaepernick four days’ notice of the tryout. Worse, they gave him just two hours to decide whether to attend and didn’t allow media access. Around 30 minutes prior to the start of the tryout, Kaepernick announced that he was moving the tryout to another Atlanta location that allowed media access since the NFL denied Kaepernick’s request for media transparency at the original location. The move was predictably denounced by the NFL.
The tryout debacle is an unexpected installation of the Kaepernick saga, especially when you consider that the NFL essentially admitted to blackballing Kaepernick when they settled a grievance lawsuit in March 2019 with the quarterback.
This tryout never needed to happen, though if the NFL wasn’t at fault for Kaepernick’s professional downfall.
Kaepernick did not disrespect the U.S. by kneeling for the anthem. In fact, his protests were the embodiment of several fundamental American values: dissent, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. You are gravely misguided if you think that not standing for the anthem is disrespectful. American soldiers did not lay down their lives for you to stand; they laid down their lives for your decision not to. Kneeling is an exercise of our fundamental and inalienable right to free speech. It is more American to kneel than to criticize others for not standing.
It’s not a matter of Kaepernick’s talent that is keeping him out of the league: it’s the league itself. The NFL does not cherish American principles. Rather, it is more concerned with ratings and profits than a player’s individuality and safety. The dichotomy between the league (and its franchises) and its players is akin to a dictatorship. The all-powerful league quells dissenting voices by blackballing players and will even void a contract if a player speaks out against a team’s gross incompetence.
This tryout was a setup, plain and simple. It is a PR move that hides the NFL’s intolerance behind a veil of reconciliation. Malcolm Jenkins, safety for the Philadelphia Eagles and fellow anthem protester, sees it the same.
“I have my doubts about the league,” Jenkins said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Now the league can say, ‘Look, we gave you a chance.’ I’d be naive to not be leery.”
The tryout, its parameters set by the league, was hastily organized, and the invitation was not sent in good faith. In week 11 of the NFL season, no team is looking to sign Kaepernick and attract a media hellstorm, especially if they are in the middle of a playoff push.
This dilemma should never have gotten to this point in the first place. Now, we are questioning the sincerity of the NFL, which could have been avoided. Rather than stand (or in this case, kneel) with Kaepernick and reinforce their commitment to player independence and their right to speak freely, they opted to blackball Kaepernick and expose their anti-Americanism.
Kaepernick risked everything and lost everything by standing up for gross injustices committed in the U.S. every day. Kaepernick is uniquely American, and the NFL hates him for it.