Blackballed or not?

Four years ago there was literally a serious discussion taking place that began: “Who would you rather have—Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick?” I for one, as a Seahawks fan, was petrified by this question in light of what I’d seen. Kaepernick ran like a gazelle for a quarterback playoff record of 181 yards and two touchdowns while throwing darts around the field for two more scores in the San Francisco 49ers 45-31 divisional playoff win against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at a frigid Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They advanced to face the Atlanta Falcons, who had dispatched the Seahawks, for the NFC Championship and the right to go to Super Bowl XLVII, which the 49ers eventually lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31 on the last play of the game.

Fast forward to 2017 and that discussion is void. Wilson has gone on to win one Super Bowl (should’ve been two), marry and knock up R&B star Ciara, and become one of the faces of the NFL. Kaepernick, meanwhile, has dealt with injuries and seen his on-field performance decline as people focused on his 2016 practice of kneeling during the national anthem to start games. Despite an early season fan backlash and media circus—which included an appearance on the cover of Time Magazine—in 12 starts, Kaepernick completed over 59 percent of his passes for over 2,200 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Following the season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers and became a free agent, eligible to sign with any team. However, the looming question is: will either his disagreement with the political stance or reluctance to deal with perceived baggage prevent an NFL owner from signing him? Although Kaepernick has made it known he will now stand for the anthem, amid the feeding frenzy of NFL free agency signings, there have been no reports of any team showing interest so far.

There is a precedent here. In the early 1990s, Craig Hodges, a member of the Michael Jordan-led NBA Champion Chicago Bulls, began to speak out on racial injustice. Hodges wore a full-length dashiki as he hand-delivered an eight-page letter to President George Bush during the Bulls 1991 visit to the White House. Hodges even called out Jordan himself for not being more vocal on social issues. In July 1992, after a season where Hodges won the 3-point shooting contest during All-Star Weekend and the Bulls claimed their second straight title, he was released by the team and never played in the NBA again. Hodges felt he was blackballed by the league but was never able to prove it.

Given the average demographic of ownership, it makes sense that teams would rather deal with almost anything than race matters. This despite the bottom third of starting quaterbacks in the league being players who, all things being equal, would serve as Kaepernick’s backup in spite of his declining performance. If he continues to go unsigned, is it because he’s been blackballed? Either way, he’d never be able to prove it.