San Francisco 49ers

Why Kaepernick’s high honor underscores awkward position NFL is in

Earlier this year Colin Kaepernick won the 49ers’ most prestigious honor, the Len Eshmont Award, which is voted on by teammates. Now he’s eligible to win the NFL Players Association’s highest annual award.

Kaepernick on Friday was named the NFLPA’s Week 1 Community MVP after he made his latest monthly $100,000 donation and he hosted a back-to-school backpack giveaway in New York. The weekly honor puts him in the running for this year’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award, which the players union in a statement said “is the highest honor that the NFLPA can bestow upon a player.”

Last week’s community award winner was Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who has helped raise more than $37 million for relief efforts in the Houston area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The Byron “Whizzer” White Award dates to 1967. Recent winners, including retired receiver Anquan Boldin and Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, later won the NFL’s most prestigious humanitarian honor, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.

Though Kaepernick is notably not employed by an NFL team, he still is represented by the players union. The award underscores the awkward position the league is in: Kaepernick has donated $900,000 to underserved communities over the last year, continues to be prominent in news cycles and yet has not been offered a roster spot on a team.

Furthermore, quarterback play generally was terrible in Week 1. Kaepernick certainly wasn’t close to being one of the NFL’s top performers last year, but it’s become increasingly hard to argue that he couldn’t help any teams this season.

Kaepernick vowed to donate $1 million last season after his national anthem protest – he said he wanted to call attention to systemic racial issues in the United States – created a whirlwind of controversy. He has been making $100,000 donations monthly to four community organizations at $25,000 apiece. The donations have been detailed on the website he unveiled last year.

The backpack giveaway took place at the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York on Saturday. The Nike backpacks were filled with books and other items for the students.

In its press release, the NFLPA said it would make a $10,000 contribution to Kaepernick’s foundation or charity of choice “along with an in-kind donation to him on behalf of our supporting partner Delta Private Jets.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at