The MMQB’s Albert Breer, who earlier this summer dedicated a full day to demanding “proof” that Adam Jones was actually called the n-word at a Red Sox game, has a story today that lets football executives run wild, anonymously explaining why Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job.
Breer is here to convince us that the notion Kaepernick is being blackballed largely because of his anthem protests is false. He does this by presenting the opinions of a few anonymous NFL execs, opinions which are also... facts?
A guy who has spent the offseason railing against any allegations of blackballing is not someone who can really claim factual neutrality when quoting anonymous NFL executives who have a vested interest in defusing the the situation. There is no reason for Breer to give these guys anonymity—if they are just expressing conventional NFL wisdom that self-evidently debunks the blackballing theory, then why the need to be anonymous?—other than to give them the ability to get some preferred talking points out there without having to be held accountable for their bad opinions once the season starts and it becomes painfully clear that their teams are employing quarterbacks who are worse than Kaepernick for no good reason.
A strange thing happens here: all three executives quoted compare Robert Griffin III to Kaepernick, as in: Why isn’t anyone asking why RGIII doesn’t have a job?? For example:
Executive 1: “It’s not something we discussed, so to talk about reasoning, we’re talking hypotheticals. … Certainly he’s good enough to be a backup. … But we have a good No. 2, a guy that fits our system that we have familiarity with. He’s here for the same reason that (Dolphins coach) Adam Gase goes back to (Jay) Cutler. We know exactly what we’re going to get from the guy. Physically, Kaepernick’s more talented, but familiarity with a backup at that position, knowing exactly what you’re going to get, is more important than the ‘wow’ factor. … It’s like with [Robert Griffin III]; you had him playing a certain way, and he was a hell of a player. But as soon as defenses figured out what they were, and a specific way to play them, that’s where they had to be able to start to win from the pocket. If you can’t do that in this league, it’s tough.”
It’s pure whataboutism, the province of politics and internet contrarians everywhere. Yes, RGIII doesn’t have a job. He also has knee ligaments that look like pulled pork, and got a chance to start last year before bombing spectacularly. It’s an inapt comparison to make, and the fact that every executive made it only reveals that biases about black quarterbacks remain entrenched in NFL front offices.
More importantly, Breer doesn’t seem to follow up on these quotes, or push the execs to expound on the RGIII comparison. Is Kaepernick really a system quarterback with shortcomings similar to RGIII’s? The numbers don’t say so, but you’d think NFL execs would be suited to defend their analytical opinions. Leaving the quotes without any additional context is a disservice to the reader, whom Breer is supposed to be informing with this piece.
After the three executives, Breer quotes an anonymous coach, who gives a more insightful answer about Kaepernick being seen as a backup and a system quarterback who teams are wary of signing for fear of having to adjust their offense to his style of play should he be called on. Then Breer interviews someone who throws out the NFL’s—and pretty much every single industry’s—biggest lie: the league is a meritocracy, and Kaepernick would have a job if he was good enough.
Okay, fine! Grant these people that Kaepernick is a system quarterback with many deficiencies (again, this is not really true), does that even come close to explaining how people like Nathan Peterman and Keith Wenning are preferable? Keith! Wenning! In no meritocracy does a guy who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 draft and has never thrown a pass in a regular-season game get a job over someone like Kaepernick. Exactly what kind of system does Wenning fit so well into that Kaepernick doesn’t?
The unfortunate thing here is that Breer’s piece caps off a week of very good pieces about Kaepernick from The MMQB. Jonathan Jones asked NAACP leaders about Kaepernick—they went on the record. Jenny Vrentas did a short piece after the Browns had a number of players protest. Pretty much every reporter on staff headed out to get a sense of the anthem protests in seven different cities. It’s clearly a well-considered undertaking, one that requires significant resources just ahead of the NFL season. Breer’s smug and useless column deserves no place within that body of work.