Day 6

Several NFL teams chose to lose rather than sign Colin Kaepernick

Plenty of teams could have used Colin Kaepernick's help this season. None of them offered him a job. 'The Nation' sports editor Dave Zirin says that's scandalous.
Colin Kaepernick, while quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, kneels for the U.S. national anthem before a game on Oct. 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The National Football League playoffs begin this weekend, and it was the season that wasn't for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Last season, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback took a stand by taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of police violence against African-Americans. The protest remains controversial, and Kaepernick spent the 2017 season as an unsigned free agent.

Since then, many of Kaepernick's fellow NFL players have also chosen to take a knee in protest, leading to support from some fans but also calls for a boycott of the league from others who view the act as disrespectful.

Some have suggested that Kaepernick was being kept out of the league by team owners who saw him as an agitator, while others argue that he was a middling player not owed a job by the NFL.

Earlier this season, the Fox Sports program First Things First compared the last six games played by current San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the last six games Kaepernick played for the 49ers. Their stats on total yards, touchdowns, interceptions and passing were all relatively equal, giving weight to the suggestion Kaepernick is being shut out of the league.


'Teams chose to lose'

Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation, says there are many NFL teams that could have had successful seasons had they chosen to sign Kaepernick.

"Most specifically, I'm thinking about the Green Bay Packers when their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers was injured and they stuck in a very young player named Brett Hundley, who went 3-and-8 the rest of the season, and even those three wins were extremely suspect. Or you could look at the Houston Texans, which had a... terrific young quarterback in Deshaun Watson — he goes down, and they only win one game the rest of the way, finished terribly below 500.

"Those two places were obvious landing spots for Colin Kaepernick to be signed during the season. Look at the landscape right now — other than the New England Patriots, there really isn't a team that you can say is head and shoulders above the rest, and even the New England Patriots have many cracks in their almighty facade. But these teams — I'll put the Miami Dolphins on that list; they went 6-and-10 after their starting quarterback was injured," he continues.

"The Denver Broncos is a big example of this — terrible quarterback play all year, despite a terrific defence. All of these teams actually chose to lose rather than sign Colin Kaepernick. I think that's an absolute shame, and frankly it's a disgrace."

Activists raise their fists as they rally in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick outside the offices of the National Football League in New York in August 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Zirin says it's no longer simply speculation that teams have refused to sign Kaepernick, but rather clearly a business decision by skittish owners.

"Of course — I know that from both news reports and my own conversations," he says. "For many of these teams — and I would throw in the Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks, the Jacksonville Jaguars — there were real conversations about 'should we bring in this guy Colin Kaepernick? What is the upside, what is the downside?' And for many of these teams, it was an absolutely terrible choice to not even give him a chance. This is a quarterback who took his team to the Super Bowl, for goodness sakes, and he can't find a job in the NFL because of his political convictions."

All of these teams actually chose to lose rather than sign Colin Kaepernick. I think that's an absolute shame — and frankly, it's a disgrace.-

Given that Kaepernick had been recovering from surgeries in recent years and not quite in the same fighting form as during his Super Bowl heyday, would he really have been such an asset to one of those teams' rosters?

"Absolutely," Zirin insists. "I mean, if you look at the actual performances of people like Brett Hundley and [Miami Dolphins quarterback] Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick is somebody who has been injured in recent years, but if you look at just last season, he played the last 12 games of the year [and] had 16 touchdown passes, four interceptions, and a quarterback rating of over 90, which is far higher than any of the teams that I've cited that performed so badly this year, and the guy couldn't even get a tryout with any of these teams — not even a tryout!"


Colin Kaepernick receives the SI Muhammad Ali Legacy Award during the Sports Illustrated 2017 Sportsperson of the Year Show on Dec. 5, 2017. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

Did collusion keep Kap out?

On Oct.15, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that team owners colluded to keep him out of uniform, not because of his athletic performance. Zirin argues there may very well have been collusion among NFL owners due to their own predominantly right-wing political leanings.

"I make this conclusion on the basis of looking at things like political donations," Zirin says. "I mean, these are people who will sign players who have been accused or convicted of violence against women, or driving while intoxicated — really horrific crimes. And yet Kaepernick is somebody who was praised by every coach he's ever had, and someone who's devoted his life really to community service.

"He is somebody who is seen to them as toxic because he speaks out against racism and because he protested during the anthem," Zirin adds. "Now, they own their teams — they certainly have the right to see him as a toxic asset that they don't want on their roster if that's their political bent. But at the same time, I think we have to say that what it does is that it proves a lie, this idea that Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, says that the NFL is some kind of meritocracy and if you're good enough, then you get to take the field. That's clearly not true."


Colin Kaepernick throws a pass in the first half of Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3, 2013 in New Orleans, La. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Lose-lose situation

As the season progressed, fewer players have been kneeling and Kaepernick still hasn't been signed.

But Zirin doesn't think that means the owners have won.

"No, I don't think they won this round, because if you look, the ratings are down.

"There's a lot of people looking at the NFL with a big side-eye. The ratings for the National Basketball Association are up pretty dramatically. Even if the NFL owners got some sort of short-term victory out of this in terms of, 'Yeah, we kept Kaepernick off,' what they've done by keeping Kaepernick off the field is radicalized a new generation of players.

I feel like I need to watch, because to talk about sports and politics and not talk about the NFL is like writing a book about the Titanic and leaving out the iceberg.- Dave Zirin

"This has been, in many respects — whether we're talking about ratings, whether we're talking about public image — a disastrous season for the National Football League. If it wasn't for the fact that I do this for a living, there's no way I'd watch the NFL at this point. They absolutely disgust me," he says.

"But I feel like I need to watch, because to talk about sports and politics and not talk about the NFL is like writing a book about the Titanic and leaving out the iceberg."


To hear the full interview with The Nation sports editor Dave Zirin, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.