When the National Football League begins its 99th season in September, Colin Kaepernick may again find himself watching the action from the comfort of his living room. A good case could be made that Kaepernick’s throwing arm still brings a lot to the table, but any team that vets the embattled quarterback these days has a knee issue to think about as well.
The two of them – the arm that catapulted Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers to elite status, and the knees that symbolically fall to the turf every time the national anthem is queued – are a package deal for the 30-year-old quarterback, and if Kaepernick and his lawyers are to be believed, team owners are overlooking his physical gifts and colluding to shut him out of the league due to the risk his pregame protests pose to their pocketbooks.
Kaepernick was spotted working out in Houston last month, sparking rumors that the Texans were interested in signing him. Those rumors were quickly laid to rest, however, when Kaepernick appeared the next day at Texans owner Bob McNair’s deposition in his collusion case.
McNair was one of several owners who were vehemently opposed to the flood of Kaepernick-inspired player protests, famously remarking in a meeting, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
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Kaepernick is in an extremely tough spot. The record seven-year, $126-million contract he signed in 2014 after leading the 49ers to back-to-back NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance ended up being a three-year deal worth just over $39 million. Despite posting a respectable QB rating of 90.7 during the 2016 season, Kaepernick now finds himself out of work and entangled in a collusion grievance that will be difficult to win.
It’s true that several quarterbacks with worse stats and arguably lesser skills have landed on rosters while Kaepernick has remained unsigned. But proving a tacit agreement between clubs to “restrict or limit individual club decision-making” vis-à-vis a coordinated agreement to blacklist him is no small task, given the countless factors that teams must consider before issuing multimillion-dollar contracts to athletes.
In short, Kaepernick was a good player when he began his historic protests, but his talents were not so unimpeachable that only collusion and blacklisting could keep him off a club roster. The collusion grievance will press forward, but in the meantime, Kaepernick’s overall legacy warrants discussion:
If Kaepernick never plays another down in the NFL, where does this leave him in the annals of history? Will his protests be acknowledged as groundbreaking and influential, or will his entire story be largely forgotten, and his name uttered only occasionally by 49ers fans and sports trivia contestants?
The more likely scenario is that Kaepernick’s story is far from over. Racial injustice and cases of police brutality are sure to spark debates and protests for years to come. Professional athletes will continue to be a part of the discourse – right or wrong – and the Kaepernick protests will shape the future acts of both players and owners. This last piece will be the most important part of Kaepernick’s legacy.
Kaepernick’s protests sparked a movement among the players and expanded the dialogue on racial injustice in America, but the owners’ haste to keep the money flowing in by stamping out these controversial protests initiated a new wave of conversations about the role team officials should play in dictating the activity of their players.
Kaepernick’s ongoing grievance will continue to shine a spotlight on these issues. If Kaepernick wins, team owners will have a crisis on their hands. If Kaepernick loses, team owners will still have personnel issues to confront.
It is Kaepernick’s stand against the NFL and its owners that will propel his story forward in the years that follow. By interjecting these powerful figures into the middle of the larger debates, and by ensuring that they would be examined under oath about the inner-workings of their empires, Kaepernick has forever altered the way they will choose to do business.
For this, Kaepernick’s story will always be one worth telling.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.