Shepard: NFL Should Welcome Kaepernick Back With Open Arms

With the NFL admitting the error of its ways, Colin Kaepernick could help heal a divided country, David Shepard says

CBS Sports Radio Weekend
June 08, 2020 - 12:36 pm
Colin Kaepernick 49ers

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Three days ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement admitting that the NFL was wrong to ignore players who chose to kneel in protest during the national anthem a few years ago. He also admitted that players should be encouraged to peacefully protest. 

It's not a secret that those individuals who chose to kneel were met with intense scrutiny from the public. It's also no secret that the player who was the pioneer and face of this movement was former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In his final 2016 preseason game, Kaepernick chose to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. The mission was to promote social justice, NOT disrespect the flag or the military. He was sending a strong message of bringing awareness to racism and police brutality against people of color. Kaepernick, as a result of his peaceful protests, found himself out of a job. This is despite the fact that he was still in his 20s and had not even played 70 NFL games. Clearly he had so much more to give ON THE FIELD.

In his last NFL season, he threw for 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions. A 4-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is very impressive. You know who can't say that for the 2019 NFL season? Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Carson Wentz, just to name a few. All four of these quarterbacks won't have to worry about losing a starting job in the 2020 NFL season, let alone not being on an NFL active roster. That doesn't even tell the full story. Kaepernick could gain more yards on the ground than any of those quarterbacks. He gained 43 yards on the ground per game in his last season. All four of these quarterbacks gained 33 yards per game on the ground COMBINED in 2019.

We know that Kaepernick is not afraid of the big moments and the big stage. He is 4-2 in the postseason. He threw for over 300 yards and had over 60 yards on the ground in his first Super Bowl appearance (2013). Keep in mind coming into the Super Bowl he had just nine career starts as a QB. He also averaged 10 YARDS PER CARRY on the ground for his playoff career. He has so much wear and tear that he has saved on his body in not playing one single NFL down since the 2016 season. He is more than a decade younger than Tom Brady. A guy with his talent, confidence, experience and wisdom absolutely has to be welcomed by any NFL team.

Kaepernick's legacy isn't as complicated as people once thought. Given the horrific recent racial injustices we have seen broadcasted, those who once denounced Kaepernick for his stance publicly realize they owe him an apology. Kaepernick was right not just in his stance on racial injustice, but right in his approach. Taking a much-needed step to peacefully protest a system that has for far too long ignored the voices who needed peace and justice the most. 

I don't know for sure if Kaepernick wants to play in the NFL anymore at this point. What I do know is there are three quarterbacks allowed on an NFL active roster. From what I saw, Kaepernick was worthy of being a No. 1 QB on an active roster in his last season. As mentioned earlier, he will have one of – if not the – most well-rested bodies in the NFL, and he's still more than a decade younger than Tom Brady. 

It would go such a long way for the NFL if a player who was once unfairly ostracized by every single team would be welcomed back with open arms. It would be a huge statement by the NFL for not just accepting that they got this one wrong in 2016, but embracing it and owning it by their actions. Kaepernick, on talent alone, deserves one more shot at an NFL career. Based on what he has sacrificed in standing for something long overdue, it's something the NFL needs to give him. A figure who once was seen as a divider in America has the potential to be a bigger unifier than anyone we have ever seen in sports. I believe the NFL gets that as well. In a time where our county is hurting, Kaepernick – more than any other player in the NFL – can help heal that.

CBS Sports Radio producer David Shepard is a former ESPN researcher, a former Division I college basketball practice player, and the host of The Good Shepard YouTube channel. Follow him on Twitter @TheGoodShepard_.