By Matteo Venieri
BU News Service
BOSTON — After almost three years, Colin Kaepernick made his return to the football field on Saturday in front of cameras and fans. The occasion wasn’t a real football game, but a public workout aimed at showing NFL executives his arm strength and accuracy.
“I’ve been ready for three years, and I’ve been denied for three years,” he told the media after the event in Atlanta. The former 49ers quarterback, who started kneeling as a form of protest against the oppression of minorities, has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season and is still unemployed, despite having formerly led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance.
The workout could’ve been a big win for all the parties involved. On one hand, Kaepernick had the biggest chance in years to be back on the field. On the other, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hoped to show the public that he had no malice toward the player who sued the entire league.
Instead, this fragile alliance collapsed like a house of cards under the burden of their egos. In fact, just a few hours before the beginning of the scheduled event, Kaepernick’s camp announced the decision to move the event 60 miles from the original location and follow a different protocol.
In essence, it became a whole different event without the blessing of the NFL. Despite the fact that 25 out of the 32 teams had allegedly committed attending the original workout, only eight teams showed up at the new location, according to the player’s agent.
The analysis of the week that lead to this fiasco has to start with the NFL. First and foremost, the league didn’t even try to be subtle in showing that it wouldn’t make it easy for the quarterback to earn his spot on an NFL roster.
Despite a lack of formal communication between Kaepernick and the NFL since February, the league reportedly contacted the player’s camp on Tuesday about the unexpected workout. It was reported that the player was only given two hours to accept and less than five days to prepare.
In other words, after letting 986 days go by since the quarterback took a snap in the pros, suddenly the league had the sense of urgency of organizing a workout that could not be postponed by a few days. “At this point, it feels like a PR stunt,” said his friend and former teammate Eric Reid on Wednesday.
In addition, the league was adamant in quashing every request from the quarterback, like having a say about time, location, liability waiver, on-field personnel, camera crew and media availability at the practice facility.
Uncomfortable with this take-it-or-leave-it type of deal, the 32-year-old quarterback decided to change the rules and control the narrative, organizing his own workout. In the eyes of the NFL, the “official” workout never took place and he was considered a no-show.
In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the league expressed their disappointment “that Colin did not appear for his workout,” despite the fact that it had been organized to give him “an opportunity to show his football readiness and desire to return to the NFL.”
The “alternative” workout, which was also streamed on YouTube, saw the quarterback throwing for about 40 minutes from midfield to four different receivers, including former 49ers teammate Bruce Ellington. He connected on 53 of his 60 attempts, including a few impressive deep balls.
At the end of the workout, Kaepernick addressed the media, saying that he had proved he had nothing to hide. “We’re waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them to stop running. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people,” he said.
An athlete like Kaepernick would be an instant upgrade to most quarterback rooms, so why is he still a free agent? As a matter of fact, Kaepernick’s unemployment has nothing to do with the flag, the anthem or the troops, but a whole lot to do with his personality. And Saturday’s events confirmed it.
By imposing absurdly strict conditions to the workout, the NFL just wanted to prove a point: everybody has to abide by our rules, no exceptions. In a league that traditionally puts the interests of the NFL before those who are part of it, Kaepernick committed the sin of reaffirming his individuality and standing by his moral principles. And because of that, in all likelihood, he will have to continue to make his own alternative plans on the weekends.