Colin Kaepernick was blackballed not for his passing ability, but for his ability to speak out

The story began in 2016: Colin Kaepernick, the then-starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, took a knee during the pre-game national anthem, stirring waves of conversation throughout the United States. The next day, when asked why he did this, he responded that it was a protest against police brutality and racism in the United States.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in an interview with NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

In some other professional sports leagues- namely, the NBA -a protest such as Kaepernick’s would have been viewed as patriotic, brave or even revolutionary by fans and league executives alike. But instead, in Kaepernick’s case, his protest led to booing from certain crowds, widespread denigration of his character and, from 2017 to the present, the lack of an NFL contract. Ultimately, Kaepernick was blackballed from the NFL for exercising his constitutional right of free speech.

Since 2016, hundreds of think pieces and editorials have been written about the merits of his protest or, to some, the lack thereof. Just as many pieces have been written about the NFL’s seeming unwillingness to support players who publicize opinions that voice discontent with the status quo. Recently though, with Kaepernick’s latest league-wide NFL scouting workout, a new conversation has sparked: how does a starting NFL quarterback, who once led his team to a Super Bowl, get blackballed from the league for three years?

The answer is a simple one: the NFL cares more about its public image than it cares about issues of racism, despite nearly 70% of its players being black or African-American.

Kaepernick’s ability was never in question. The 49ers may have gone 1–10 in Kaepernick’s final 11 games with the team, but Kaepernick is only one player, and his final season with the team was shrouded in controversy and turmoil for obvious reasons. But Kaepernick’s passing numbers in that season were consistent with those from the rest of his career- his passes had a completion rate of 59.2% in his final season, and the average for his entire career is 59.8%.

“Colin has been a fantastic football player, and he’s going to continue to be,” Seattle Seahawks coach Steve Carroll said in 2017. “At this time, we didn’t do anything with it, but we know where he is and who he is, and we had a chance to understand him much more so. He’s a starter in this league, and we have a starter. But he’s a starter in this league and I can’t imagine that somebody won’t give him a chance to play.”

In May 2018, the NFL unveiled a new rule in which players would be fined if they decided to kneel during the national anthem, citing that the pre-game singing of the national anthem was important, and should be done in a respectful fashion.

So, no, Kaepernick’s ability was never in question- his right to stand for what he believed in was.

Originally published at on November 26, 2019.

I study American History at Howard University. I like to write sometimes.

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