USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes looks at how character concerns affected big-name draft prospects.
USA TODAY Sports
What does it say about the NFL, and about us, when at least a half-dozen men who have been accused of physical or sexual assault have been welcomed into the NFL over the past week, while Colin Kaepernick still has not?
Is it worse to be known for not standing for the national anthem than for being accused of hitting or assaulting someone? Is Kaepernick a less desirable member of an NFL team or community than, say, Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick Gareon Conley, who is being investigated by the Cleveland police on a rape allegation, or Cincinnati Bengals second-round pick Joe Mixon, who was caught on videotape knocking out a woman with a devastating punch?
As of now, it appears the answer is yes. At the moment, Conley and Mixon have more of a foot in the door in the NFL than does Kaepernick, the 29-year-old, six-year veteran who took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl during the 2012 season.
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No matter how much some of you might despise Kaepernick for what he did last season, you have to admit that’s a stunning arrangement of values.
It was quite a surprise to see so many young men with so much violence attached to their names drafted by NFL teams little more than a week after USA TODAY Sports reported that Ray Rice himself was going to participate in the league’s social responsibility education program this year. You think everyone is getting with the plan, and then you realize they’re not. Not at all.
Then throw in the fact that the guy famous for making a controversial social statement still hasn’t landed back in the league when more than a dozen other quarterbacks have signed, and the player he replaced during last season — Blaine Gabbert — is in talks to sign with the Arizona Cardinals, and you really do have to wonder what’s going on.
To those people who are angry that Kaepernick knelt or sat during the national anthem last season, including some of you in the owners’ and general managers’ suites, I hear you. I stand for our national anthem and would be very surprised if someone around me did not. Who doesn’t understand the opinion of current service members or veterans in particular who thought that what Kaepernick did was a sign of disrespect?
But to fail to acknowledge – and even celebrate – that what Kaepernick did was his right as a U.S. citizen is to ignore one of the reasons the United States is the great and free nation that it is.
While some NFL teams were busy drafting names from the police blotter last weekend, Kaepernick was standing outside a New York City parole office, handing out two boxes of his own custom-made suits to men who needed them for upcoming job interviews. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity. In March, it was reported by several news media outlets, including USA TODAY Sports, that Kaepernick will not protest the national anthem this coming season. And yet he’s still a free agent, so far unwanted by all 32 NFL teams.
“I’m of the opinion he’s going to end up on somebody’s roster,” Harry Edwards, the noted sociologist and activist who has worked with Kaepernick as a team consultant with the 49ers, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“It would be in the league’s interest for that to happen, to not create a martyr out of him, especially when they have people on teams accused of rape and knocking women out. He was just named one of the 100 most influential people in the world (by Time magazine). Give me a break. If you’re the NFL, you want him on a team.”
Edwards said Kaepernick “has moved on from protest to promotion of progress, from resistance to resolution. He has pledged that his taking a knee is over, that he is concerned now with actions that help resolve problems, not just actions that simply communicate that there is a problem. In this regard, he would be a great model for those players in the league who really want to contribute to solutions and not just send a message.”
And if he ends up not playing this year?
“If for whatever reason Kaep is not on a roster during the preseason and for the regular season,” Edwards said, “I think that the league should offer him another position – deputy commissioner – if for no other reason than to have his input and perspectives on the management of emerging situations.”
Perhaps he can start by getting the league’s priorities in order.