Feinstein: Kaepernick Didn't Play The NFL's Game The NFL's Way

Colin Kaepernick made the right move in refusing to participate in the NFL's latest PR sham, John Feinstein says

John Feinstein
November 18, 2019 - 4:22 pm
Colin Kaepernick 49ers

USA Today Images

Categories: 

I walked into the press box at M&T Bank Stadium this past Sunday morning and found several of my colleagues discussing Colin Kaepernick’s workout that took place on Saturday in Atlanta.

Needless to say, I became involved right away and—proving how naïve I can be even at my advanced age—was surprised to learn that my view of what had happened was quite different from theirs.
            
I was 100 percent in favor of Kaepernick’s decision to move the workout from the Falcons’ training facility to a local high school after the NFL insisted that the workout be held in secret—no media, no public—just the scouts who showed up.
            
Why? Because I wouldn’t trust anyone in the NFL to tell the truth right now on the subject of Kaepernick under any circumstances. I was sure—and I’m sure Kaepernick was even more sure—that the "reports" coming out of the workout, all of them anonymous of course, would say that Kaepernick might have looked like he was in shape, but whether he could help an NFL team was questionable, perhaps doubtful. Remember all those stories back in 2017 quoting a litany of anonymous NFL executives claiming that Kaepernick wasn’t being blackballed, he just wasn’t that good a quarterback anymore.? Or, the other argument—that he wasn’t worth the trouble because he’d become a polarizing figure?
            
You can bet Kaepernick read those same stories and knew he’d probably get the same “anonymous” treatment again if he went along with the notion of working out in private. So, insisting on “transparency”—a word the NFL can’t stand—he moved the workout to Riverdale High School.
            
The NFL alleged that 25 teams had representatives at the Falcons’ training camp. Only eight teams showed up in Riverdale.
            
“There were 25 teams ready to watch Kaepernick perform,” the NFL said in a statement. “We are disappointed he failed to show up for the workout.”
            
I love those words: “failed to show up.”
            
What Kaepernick did was decide he didn’t have to play the game the NFL’s way. My guess is he knew that no team was likely to give him a legitimate look after the workout anyway, so why give the NFL the chance to take bows for (finally) scheduling a workout and let all those “anonymous” quotes about how he can’t play get floated out there again?

The conversation I walked into was entirely different from what I was thinking. Kaepernick, according to my friends, had blown it by moving the workout. He should have gone along with the NFL’s demands because HE needed to build a bridge back to playing in the league. His behavior was more proof that he was too high-maintenance at this point to make it worthwhile for a team to sign him.
            
Okay, let’s review—as I did—no doubt in a loud voice.
           
If eight teams managed to make it to Riverdale, why couldn’t the other 17? They couldn’t get in their rental cars or call a cab or an Uber? They were already in Atlanta, why was it so hard to travel a little more? My answer? Because they were only in Atlanta for PR purposes and, given an excuse to not watch Kaepernick, they took advantage.
            
Kaepernick should rebuild the bridge? It was the league—Commissioner Roger Goodell and 32 owners--who blackballed him in 2017, a year after he started a peaceful movement by refusing to stand for the national anthem. Many NFL fans—and the president of the United States—saw this as some kind of treasonous act. Many complained that Kaepernick and those who followed him were taking the joy out of watching the NFL.
            
Seriously? Nothing any of them did took place during a game. The anthem was still played, the flag was still waved. For the record, that too is a peaceful political statement. It’s just not one that makes most people uncomfortable.
            
The owners—many of them Trump supporters—responded by, for all intents and purposes, firing Kaepernick. They were within their rights in doing so. Of course, having the right to do something is a lot different than doing the right thing.
            
Kaepernick should have been signed for two reasons: First, he was plenty good enough to help quite a few NFL teams. Remember, he was a STARTER in San Francisco in 2016—on a bad team, but, nevertheless, a starter—and was probably better than almost any backup in the league. At least.
            
And second? By signing Kaepernick someone would have given evidence of why our country IS great: because someone can speak out on an issue and, regardless of how unpopular, still be treated fairly. That’s why the Klu Klux Klan is still granted licenses to demonstrate. Their positions are repulsive, but the constitution says they have the right to have them.
            
But the owners went the blackball route and the NFL media—most of them white men—fell in line and used all the anonymous quotes about how Kaepernick just couldn’t play anymore. It was amazing how the instant he stopped standing for the anthem he completely forgot how to play football.
            
The guys I was arguing with are guys I respect—good reporters, smart people. And yet, there they were taking—for the most part—the NFL’s position that Kaepernick had somehow been in the wrong on Saturday.
            
I think he did one thing wrong: he should have answered questions after making his post-workout statement to the media. He said what he wanted to say—about how he’d been ready to play for three years but hadn’t been given a chance; about how one owner needed to be willing to say, “enough is enough,” and give him a legitimate chance. He also talked about how the media has been under attack since the 2016 election.
            
And then he didn’t answer questions from the media. He should have done that—if only to be more transparent.
            
Beyond that, though, the neutral observers who got to watch saw a guy who was in excellent shape and still had plenty of arm strength and accuracy. I guarantee you if anyone else—I mean anyone—had gone through a workout like Kaepernick’s on Saturday—he’d have been at someone’s facility on Tuesday and perhaps on that roster by Sunday.
            
But Kaepernick is a four-letter-word in NFL circles. Although several of the scouts there admitted—anonymously of course—that Kaepernick had looked good, the silence coming from the teams who actually made the effort to be there was deafening.
            
I also wondered—and wonder—if the NFL was even a little bit sincere about this, why a workout like this wasn’t arranged in the spring. The collusion case he and Eric Reid filed against the league was settled in February—after the league decided the last thing it wanted to do was go to arbitration and lose.
            
So why didn’t Kaepernick get a look after the draft but before training camps opened? Why now, 11 weeks into the season? My colleagues didn’t have an answer for that one. They all agreed on one thing: no one is going to give Kaepernick a serious look between now and season’s end.
            
“Maybe next year,” one of them said. “This was about next year.”
            
Actually, it wasn’t about any year. It was about the NFL—and its media apologists—being able to say, ‘Oh, we took a look at him.’ That’s a little bit like me telling my wife I LOOKED at a salad: I might look, but I’m certainly not taking a bite.
            
I’m not at all shocked that the NFL remains completely disingenuous. That’s what the NFL does: it may not have invented disingenuous, but it has perfected it. Whenever Goodell claims he’s going to be transparent, you can almost see the stone wall rising in front of him.
            
Near the end of the argument Sunday, I lost my temper a little bit. Okay, maybe more than a little bit and said, “The NFL is run by a bunch of old white men, most of whom are racists.”
            
Maybe that was hyperbole. But not by much.
            
From behind me, I heard a voice say, “Damn right, John.”
            
I looked around. It was the only African-American reporter who was within earshot of the conversation.
 
                        
John Feinstein’s most recent book is, “Benchwarmers,” the story of an 11-year-old girl who wants to play on her school’s sixth-grade boys soccer team but is denied a fair chance by a misogynist coach. His book, “The Prodigy,” also fiction, goes deep inside the Masters to tell the story of a 17-year-old with a chance to win the tournament but finds himself fighting with his father, agents and equipment reps who want to turn him into a human ATM machine. His most recent work of non-fiction is, “Quarterback—Inside the Most Important Position in Professional Sports.” His new book, “The Back Roads to March,” will be published in March. John’s website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com