What has happened to Colin Kaepernick? No, not the emerging activist, the quarterback with the powerful arm, the confident stride, the commanding presence?
Where did that guy go? Is his apparent demise the accumulation of injuries? Can he fully recover from offseason thumb, knee and shoulder surgeries? Can he possibly dislodge presumed 49ers regular-season starter Blaine Gabbert? And why choose the most vulnerable stretch of your NFL career to take a seat and grab the social and political megaphone?
I say let him sit.
I just want to know if he can play.
The noise about who Kaepernick is or isn’t offending by refusing to stand during the national anthem is a misdirection play. The conversation about racism and inequality in America should be a constant at kitchen tables, in classrooms, in bars and restaurants. These are hard, complicated, uncertain times. But the discussion about what ails our country has nothing to do with what occurs during the playing of a symbolic song that, frankly, is outdated and not nearly as appealing as, say, “O Canada.”
We should leave the anthem out of it. You don’t hear it in courtrooms, in operating rooms, in newsrooms. You don’t hear Francis Scott Key while shopping for groceries or trolling for clothes at Target. So why has it become such a fixture at sporting events? That has always struck me as an awkward fit, particularly given the influx of international players in Major League Baseball and the NBA, and the NFL to a lesser extent.
Kap has always been a stand-up guy. I don’t have any problem with him bringing up racism and inequality. Those are important issues. But it’s the timing and the platform. And I wonder about his focus. On game day you just have to go out and do it, and your mind has to be completely into it.
Chris Ault, Colin Kaepernick’s coach at Nevada
Why not play the national anthems from Croatia? Lithuania? Argentina? Pregame ceremonies at two pro franchises – the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Pelicans – even include an invocation, but let’s not even start debating the separation of church and state.
We have enough problems, and this is sports. Kaepernick might not even have a career after Thursday’s preseason finale at San Diego, which makes the circumstances surrounding of his recent protests interesting, to say the least. Courageous? That, too.
Muhammad Ali, let’s not forget, was the heavyweight champ when he refused induction into the Army and was banned from boxing. John Carlos and Tommie Smith were on the Olympic medal stand when they raised their black-gloved fists. Kaepernick, 28, is an overpaid backup, not nearly the same dynamic young player who ran and passed and electrified crowds. His reward – a multiyear contract that earns him $11.9 million this year – is either a safety net or a liability, as yet to be determined.
So, again, what is the deal with his game? His coach at Nevada, Chris Ault, is asking the same questions. He wonders about Kaepernick’s health and, publicly at least, encourages his former star to worry about his job and save his protests for the offseason. By sitting during the anthem in the first three preseason games and planning to do so again Thursday, the coach believes, Kaepernick is placing an inordinate amount of pressure on his shoulders and becoming a distraction in the locker room.
“Kap has always been a stand-up guy,” Ault said Monday. “I don’t have any problem with him bringing up racism and inequality. Those are important issues. But it’s the timing and the platform. And I wonder about his focus. On game day you just have to go out and do it, and your mind has to be completely into it.”
These are hard, complicated, uncertain times. But the discussion about what ails our country has nothing to do with what occurs during the playing of a symbolic song that, frankly, is outdated and not nearly as appealing as, say, “O Canada.”
Ault, who just returned from his first season coaching the Milano Rhinos in Italy, predicted the hiring of former Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly would provide both the 49ers and his former quarterback with a much-needed sense of stability.
“I thought this was the best thing to happen that could happen to Kap,” Ault said. “His skills are perfect for what Chip wants to do. The play-action pass goes right into the run game. It takes the pressure off the quarterback and allows him to drop back with more confidence. So to me, the question is this: Is Kap healthy? Is he going to be the leader of this team or just another player?’ He would have a lot more influence as a starter.”
Thursday night could be illuminating. San Diego is a sleepy little town with a massive military presence. The noise inside the stadium will be deafening, the pressure on Kaepernick enormous. But this is America. There is no law against kissing your biceps, posing nude for magazines, enjoying the life of a millionaire or protesting against the system.
At some point, though, he has to play. Otherwise, no one will hear him.