It’s on the NFL’s owners now.
It’s always been on them, the conscious decision to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL. Now, though, their cover is gone. The excuses that Kaepernick isn’t really interested in playing anymore or that his skills have diminished during his three years in exile, those were exposed for the lies that they always were over a 45-minute span Saturday at a high school in suburban Atlanta.
The next time a starting quarterback goes down, or Mitchell Trubisky has another dreadful game, that team’s owner now has to either give Kaepernick a legitimate shot or admit that he values hate and ignorance over winning.
“We all know why I came out here and showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide,” Kaepernick said after his first workout in three years. “So we’re waiting for the 32 owners, the 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all them to stop running.
“Stop running from the truth, stop running from the people.”
Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since the end of the 2016 season, effectively blackballed as punishment for his protests against police brutality toward people of color and social inequality. Whether it was a formal agreement among the owners or simply understood, anyone who has any sense – or has looked at some rosters – knows that Kaepernick has been deliberately barred from the NFL.
Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Nick Foles all have missed significant time this season, and Matthew Stafford is likely to. Did Kaepernick get a call from any of their teams? No. Chicago, Washington, Miami and the New York Jets all have garbage pits at quarterback, with Trubisky’s struggles effectively squandering an opportunity for its Super Bowl-caliber defense. Did any even bring Kaepernick in for a look? Nope.
Colin Kaepernick looks to make a pass during a private NFL workout. (Photo: Carmen Mandato, Getty Images)
Over the last three years, Nathan Peterman, Derek Anderson, Chad Henne, Brandon Weeden – all have gotten jobs while Kaepernick, who led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl in his second season and is still tied for the second-lowest interception percentage, did not.
“I’ve been ready for three years,” Kaepernick said. “I’ve been denied for three years.”
No doubt some NFL owners harbor a grudge against Kaepernick because he’s had the audacity to criticize this country for its most endemic and enduring flaw: racism. This a group that is almost exclusively white and almost exclusively male, and when you are used to the kind of privilege they are, treating everyone equally feels as if you are losing something.
For most, though, shunning Kaepernick is about fear.
The narrative around Kaepernick’s protests was misconstrued long ago – it’s not about the flag or the anthem or the military or the police or any other smokescreen – and owners are terrified of the segment of people in this country who bought into it. They are petrified that President Donald Trump will turn his itchy Twitter finger in the NFL’s direction again, using Kaepernick as a way to stoke (more) hatred among his base.
They are terrified that TV ratings will drop, or that fans will stay home if someone signs Kaepernick. Never mind that Eric Reid and Kenny Stills have continued their protests, and the NFL is thriving. Or that the younger and more diverse demographic – you know, the one the NFL needs if it wants to reach Goodell’s goal of $25 billion in revenue by 2027 – supports Kaepernick. What? You thought Nike gave him that fat contract out of the goodness of its heart?
Aside from the fact that Kaepernick can still play, and that he thoroughly played the NFL, the biggest takeaway from Saturday might have been the folks who gathered outside the Atlanta Falcons facility. And the ones who rushed to Charles Drew High School in Riverdale, Georgia, as soon as they found out Kaepernick had ditched the NFL-organized workout and would instead hold one of his own.
Sure, there were some who were there to protest Kaepernick. But there were more who were there to show support. Just as there has been a largely overlooked group that has boycotted the NFL because Kaepernick has been excluded.
“To all the people that came out here today to support, I appreciate y’all, I love y’all,” Kaepernick said. “To the people that aren’t here, I’m thinking of you, I appreciate your support from wherever you are.”
History will be the ultimate judge of Kaepernick, the NFL and its owners, and it's clear who the winner will be. The hate, bigotry and fear that have kept Kaepernick out of the NFL are dying, and he made the excuses the owners have been hiding behind look more and more laughable with every throw Saturday.
"The ball’s in their court," Kaepernick said. "We’re ready to go."
Ignorance and fear have cost Kaepernick three seasons of his career. How many more losses will that cost NFL owners?
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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