NFL Stars Defy Breitbart Haters on Colin Kaepernick

Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers say the quarterback’s protest politics shouldn’t keep him off the field.

Photo Credit: CBS News/YouTube

In a few short years, Colin Kaepernick has gone from quarterback of the future to spokesman for social justice. But what he would really like right now is to be is an employed football player—and more and more of his fellow NFL players agree.

A year ago, Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem as a silent protest against police violence against African Americans. Released by the San Francisco 49ers earlier this year, the biracial quarterback could not even get a tryout with any of the NFL’s 30 teams.

He has become a role model and a scapegoat. Dozens of NFL, college, and high school players have followed his example, either by kneeling or raising fists. While he is demonized on an almost daily basis on Breitbart News, Kaepernick is hero to many. More than 1,000 demonstrators recently rallied at NFL headquarters in New York in support of his stance.

"Outside of politics, there may be nobody in popular culture at this complex moment so divisive and so galvanizing, so scorned and so appreciated," says the New York Times.

He is, by all accounts, a thoughtful and generous man. On September 7, Kaepernick announced a $100,000 donation to be split evenly between four charities: DREAM, which aids after-school programs for New York City youth; Coalition for the Homeless; The Gathering for Justice’s War on Children, which is a new program that will fight against child incarceration; and United We Dream, which focuses on immigrant youth. 

The NFL Players Association named him "Community MVP" of the week for his philanthropy and grassroots activism in support of marginalized communities.

Two games into the NFL season, not team has called on his services, not even the ones whose quarterbacks are playing terribly. Kaepernick may not be among the best 30 quarterbacks in the league--his style is unorthodox and not always successful--but he is obviously among the top 60.

Since every NFL team has at least two quarterbacks, it is fair to ask, why can't Kaepernick get a job? 

The reasons are obvious: politics and right-wing media intimidation. The NFL owners are a conservative bunch; eight of them donated a total of $7.25 million to the Trump inaugural committee. Any NFL owner or general manager willing to give Kaepernick a contract would face the wrath of his fellow owners, a barrage of belittling coverage from Breitbart News, and relentless abuse by the racist trolls of social media.

Who wants to be the Mitch McConnell or Leslie Jones of the NFL? 

Players Speak

But the men who play the game of football, not politics, are now speaking up for Kaepernick, albeit quietly.

Kaepernick’s politics are not an issue, says Tom Brady, the superstar quarterback of the New England Patriots who endorsed Trump during the 2016 campaign. On Sunday, Brady told CBS News he hopes Kaepernick gets to play.

“I’ve always watched him,” Brady said. “The way that he has played. He was a great young quarterback. He came to our stadium and beat us and took his team to the Super Bowl in 2012. He accomplished a lot in the pros as a player and he’s certainly qualified and I hope he gets a shot.”

Aaron Rodgers, star quarterback for Green Bay Packers, told ESPN last month that he thought Kaepernick "should be on a roster right now."

Asked what he thought of Kaepernick's views on police violence, Rodgers said, "I think the best way I can say this is: I don't understand what it's like to be in that situation. What it is to be pulled over, or profiled, or any number of issues that have happened, that Colin was referencing, or any of my teammates have talked to me about."

It's a situation the country needs to "remedy and improve," Rodgers said. "I know it's a real thing my black teammates have to deal with."

Rodgers said he is “100 percent supportive” of teammates or fellow players who choose not to stand for the national anthem.

Help Wanted

Kaepernick burst onto the NFL scene in 2011 with a combination of skill and athleticism that enabled him to lead the San Francisco 49ers to the league championship. In the years that followed, he didn’t always live up to that promise but even after he was benched, his teammates voted to give him a team award bestowed on "the 49er who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play."

On Sunday some players on the hapless Cincinnati Bengals said they think Kaepernick looks pretty good right now. After the team failed to score a touchdown in its first two games, unnamed players said the team should consider signing Kaepernick to take over from struggling quarterback Andy Dalton and his mediocre backup.

“Though there’s no indication that the team would consider making such a move,“ said ProFootballTalk.com, “zero touchdowns and nine points in two full games can cause a team to start turning over stones in search of answers.”

Kaepernick recently told activist Shaun King on Twitter that he's ready and in shape, should a team come calling: "Yes. I've never stopped [preparing]," he said. "I'm ready right now. Working out daily."

Kaepernick’s former coach, Chip Kelly, dismissed the oft-heard argument that the quarterback’s political views would create a “distraction” that would hurt a team.

"Kap was awesome,” Kelly said last summer. “He explained to all the players his thought process and mindset of what he was doing. And there were some players that agreed with him and some players that didn't agree with him. But after that point, we heard from the outside about what a distraction it is, except those people weren't in our locker room and it never was a distraction. He never turned it into a circus."

The distraction has been created by the right-wing news organizations that object to Kaepernick's political views and want to silence him. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and a lot of NFL players have a different view: let the man play. 

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin's Press, October 2017) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.

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