NFL free agency began three weeks ago, and Colin Kaepernick is still a man without a team, even in a league in which Mike Glennon just got $19 million guaranteed to actually start for someone. Is Kaepernick being blackballed because of his national anthem protest? It he still unsigned because of his lack of ability? His disinterest in football? Has he really become too much of a distraction?
Michael Rosenberg tackles this topic in a column for Sports Illustrated in which he offers up some pretty solid informed speculation. Basically, it’s complicated. Rosenberg carefully tiptoes through a variety of nuanced, sometimes contradictory factors that all could explain Kaepernick’s continued unemployment—including the very possible notion that some of the retrograde billionaires who own NFL teams might think it’s not-so-hot for the brand for the starting quarterback to be kneeling during the national anthem. But what’s most striking—and refreshing—about Rosenberg’s take are the supportive opinions he presents from Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly, two men who coached Kaepernick in San Francisco.
Both coaches shoot down the notion that Kaepernick can’t play anymore, that he doesn’t prioritize football, and that he had been any kind of “distraction” to the 49ers. Kelly—who first stuck up for Kaepernick last fall—said Kaepernick did not miss a single day of the Niners’ voluntary offseason program last spring even as he was recovering from surgery and was noticeably displeased with the organization. Added Kelly:
“There was zero distraction. He met with the team immediately after [his first protest]. He met with the other team leaders. He explained his position and where he was coming from. And literally, that was it. Colin was focused on football. He was all about the team and trying to help us win.”
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Harbaugh might be a milk-drinking, steak-chomping caricature of American wholesomeness who once answered a question about Kaepernick’s anthem protest by saying, “I don’t respect the motivation or the action,” but he has since come around on the topic, in part because some of his players at Michigan have shown their solidarity with Kaepernick by raising their fists during the anthem. Despite his initial feelings, Harbaugh told Rosenberg that Kaepernick’s actions worked, at least for him. “It wasn’t a distraction because we were listening to what they were saying,” Harbaugh told Rosenberg. “And they had a valid point. And they continue to have a valid point.”
Harbaugh has been open about improving legal representation for poor people, and he dovetailed his outspokenness on that topic—and all its messy complexities—with the message at the root of Kaepernick’s protest. By simply paying attention to voices he might not otherwise have been inclined to hear in the past, Harbaugh seems to have opened his mind—a lot:
Listen to Harbaugh talk about the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown was killed: “Now that they’ve had a chance to reflect on Ferguson, one of the real culprits were the fines and fees they were putting on low-income Americans, [that] 48 states have been implementing on all of us, all Americans. For Colin, and what Colin’s doing and has been doing, when you really stop and listen and know where Colin is coming from … he’s trying to do this for his future kids, for my kids, for all of our kids. He’s a special person and a hero, in my opinion.”