Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest the national anthem has generated a sizable earthquake across the entire country. The 49ers’ quarterback is entering the political arena unlike any NFL player before him. Turn on CNN or Fox News, and he’s the leading discussion.
Whether you agree or disagree with his decision — and by many accounts, it really is split right down the middle — there are going to be lingering effects for weeks, months and potentially even years. Let’s analyze a few.
Fans and, very likely, a few players will join Kaepernick
In texting with a handful of guys on the Browns and Redskins, players are having internal discussions in their own locker rooms about joining Kaepernick and sitting down during the national anthem. Now, many of them won’t follow through. There are endorsements to worry about, you’ll automatically alienate a portion of fans, you’ll have to answer a firestorm of questions and your social media pages will be blown to pieces with hate messages. It’s a tremendous risk to take, a leap of faith that protesting will lead to progress. But the early sense I’m getting is that Kaepernick will have started a mini trend in the NFL. He’s hardly the only player outraged by police brutality. I don’t think he will riding alone in his protest for very long.
Is there a stronger example of how actions speak much louder than words? A month ago, LeBron James and his basketball superstars gave a heartfelt speech about violence at the ESPY’s, but it was a minor blip on the radar compared to the message Kaepernick is sending. People who feel like there is unrest in this country are searching for a leader to follow. Well, look no further than Kaepernick. Cameras will be fixated on him during the national anthem this season, and there will likely be dozens and possibly hundreds of fans who join him from the stands.
If Kaepernick’s goal was to start a conversation across America, he’s succeeded.
Kaepernick’s shockwave is a tremendous distraction
Chip Kelly can downplay the situation all that he wants, but when your football team calls a players-only meeting to discuss political warfare instead of X’s and O’s, it’s a gigantic distraction.
That’s not to say the distraction is totally detrimental. His teammates handled the topic of conversation wonderfully in the locker room on Sunday. Offensive linemen Daniel Kilgore openly disagreed with Kaepernick, but not with anger. These are the types of discussions this country needs to have to improve itself. These types of discussions could bring a football team closer together. They also could divide it further, if not tackled correctly. Critics will say Kaepernick’s football career is floundering, so he’s using the spotlight to harness his next move. That’s a fair point.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s ludicrous to think the 49ers’ only focus is winning right now. A staff member and a coach told me their own family and friends have been blowing up phones to get their two cents in on the situation. It’s going to be a tough task for Kelly and the entire organization to compartmentalize such a polarizing topic. And if the coach continues to downplay the situation hoping it quiets down, like he insinuated on the Murph and Mac Monday morning, this Kaepernick issue could disintegrate in his face. Which leads us to our next topic…
If Kaepernick is released by the 49ers, there will be more backlash, and there are teams who won’t touch him with a 10-foot pole
No. 7’s roster spot is not a guarantee, according to Fox Sport’s Jay Glazer.
“Regardless of politics or not, he has a very, very big uphill battle to make this team,” Glazer said. “I’d be shocked if he’s on the 49ers by the time this season ends.”
The two week absence from arm fatigue didn’t help, but Kaepernick has been as inconsistent as Blaine Gabbert on the field. The 49ers brass could decide that this distraction isn’t worth it because his play has declined so much. Kelly didn’t even give him the chance to start against the Packers on Friday. It’s likely the team will keep two of the three quarterbacks between Kap, Jeff Driskel and Christian Ponder. It’s also likely they’ll go 5-11 this season no matter who is under center. Does it behoove Kelly to rid himself of Kaepernick now? Probably. But the 49ers franchise themselves will be under political siege from activists who will say he was cut for expressing his first amendment right. The team really is stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment.
Should Kaepernick get released, his options are going to be limited. If you’ve watched HBO’s Hard Knocks this season, Rams coach Jeff Fisher gave a five minute presentation on why the national anthem means so much to him and the organization. Undoubtedly, there are other coaches with military ties who would not welcome Kaepernick into their organization. Even if Kaepernick has explained he has nothing against our armed forces, the stigma of his protest will remain.
You don’t have to agree with his protest to recognize Kaepernick’s bravery on this. He’s harming his entire football career by standing up (or sitting down) for what he believes in.
Celebrities and athletes are entering the political arena: Deal with it
Many have written about the fact that we want athletes to jump out of their cliched shell, but the moment they do, the masses yell at them to stay in their lane. Kaepernick’s political stunt is proving athletes might have an even bigger reach than originally thought. His former superstardom obviously helped his cause, but we could look back at Kaepernick’s protest as a watershed moment when modern day sports figures used their power to influence the country.