He is talented but unemployable in his chosen field.
He is brave, but management is afraid he’s bad for business.
He’s started in a Super Bowl, but legions who couldn’t carry his playbook call him a loser. They are the same ones who like to quote Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech of 1910, the one criticizing critics: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback without a team, never left the arena. Even his loudest detractors admit he was bloodied for taking a stand.
He demonstrated against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem when he played for the San Francisco 49ers.
Blackballed from pro football since the 2017 season, Kaepernick continued to speak out. He said ethnic minorities, especially black people, know routine encounters with police officers often turn deadly.
As of this week, Kaepernick has never been stronger in terms of his public standing.
Four unfit cops in Minneapolis have given new voice to Kaepernick’s message. One of the officers knelt on the neck of a handcuffed black man, George Floyd, for more than eight minutes.
The other officers didn’t serve or protect. They watched Floyd take his last breath.
This case is different from many others in which police used excessive force.
Kaepernick’s peaceful kneel-down in a packed stadium will forever be compared with the police officer’s knee on Floyd’s neck.
And now many more professional athletes, black and white, are speaking on the cause that turned Kaepernick into an outcast.
“I just don’t see how a man in handcuffs on the ground who is clearly detained and is clearly in distress, I don’t understand how that situation can’t be remedied in a way that doesn’t end in his death,” said J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.
Watt is white and one of the NFL’s stars. He also is among the most popular and community minded players in all of professional sports. Watt led a campaign that raised tens of millions of dollars to rebuild Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
The four officers in Minneapolis have been fired by their chief. We’ll see if they are charged criminally and prosecuted.
Already clear is the former officers and their police union will mount a defense to any allegations, regardless of whether they are administrative, civil or criminal.
They will say an officer kneeling for more than eight minutes on the neck of a shackled, gasping 46-year-old man was by the numbers.
Floyd will be demonized by the former cops and their lawyers. Those responsible for his death will have a better chance of working again in law enforcement than Kaepernick has of suiting up for an NFL team.
President Donald Trump once used profane language in calling for the firing of NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem. Most team owners can only be described as, well, weak-kneed. Trump and dissidents make them nervous.
The NFL recently classified Kaepernick as a retired player. This was not true. Never did Kaepernick say he was done with football.
After being challenged on this point, the NFL changed Kaepernick’s status to unrestricted free agent.
Any of the 32 NFL teams could sign him. Even at age 32 and absent from the NFL for more than three years, Kaepernick is better than many quarterbacks taking up space on rosters.
Yet he is treated worse than a criminal.
Another exciting pro quarterback, Michael Vick, ran a dog-fighting ring. He served 18 months in a federal prison for his crimes.
But the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers hired him after he was freed.
That was fine with me. People always talk about rehabilitating convicted felons. Hiring them is a first step.
In contrast to Vick, Kaepernick has harmed no one and committed no crime.
His message about police brutality against black people rings truer than ever. It’s still not enough to get him back in the league.
At last, though, there’s a bit of social order.
The quarterback whose kneel-down damaged nothing except a few blades of grass no longer is Public Enemy No. 1.