What team owner would risk being vilified as racist if things don’t go well for the quarterback?
By Jason Whitlock
The Wall Street Journal
May 19, 2017
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick became a hero to progressive activists—and a polarizing figure among National Football League fans—when he began kneeling during the national anthem last season. His protest of police misconduct won him plaudits from the sports media, but he has been jobless since parting ways with the San Francisco 49ers earlier this year. Progressives believe Mr. Kaepernick is a victim, and I agree. The question is who made him one.
The sports press wants you to believe Mr. Kaepernick, who recently received interest from the Seattle Seahawks, remains unemployed thanks to the racist collusion of 32 conservative billionaire team owners. ESPN commentator Bomani Jones demands the media “stop hiding behind code” and address this “visible potential case of discrimination.” The normally measured Tim Kawakami wrote in a rambling column that a lesser quarterback already signing with an NFL team proved Mr. Kaepernick was being blackballed.
In reality, the 29-year-old has struggled to find work because his supporters inflated the risk of signing him, and his skills don’t compensate for the uncertainty he brings. An owner, general manager or coach runs the risk of being publicly vilified as racist depending on how his team uses the mixed-race quarterback.
The same risk does not exist if an NFL decision maker mishandles rookies like Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson, or veterans such as Blaine Gabbert and Geno Smith. A coach knows he can bench or cut any NFL quarterback, except Mr. Kaepernick, without having his personal integrity questioned. This explains why former Kaepernick backup Mr. Gabbert has already signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Critics of the Gabbert acquisition can question Arizona head coach Bruce Arians’s football acumen without politics becoming an issue. Mr. Gabbert is in that way an ideal backup: somewhere between invisible and boring.
Former quarterback Tim Tebow’s rabid, irrational supporters undermined his NFL opportunities in much the same fashion as Mr. Kaepernick’s. In 2011 he started 11 games for the Denver Broncos and led them to a come-from-behind playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In celebration of big plays and touchdowns, Mr. Tebow knelt in prayer and became a polarizing religious symbol. He was also a below-average passer. The Broncos, and several other teams, discarded the fervent Christian when it became clear his production didn’t justify the controversy associated with his presence.
Mr. Kaepernick’s kneeling is an even riskier proposition. The social-justice warrior has cultivated media alliances far more aggressively than the pious Mr. Tebow. Mr. Kaepernick is also closely aligned with Black Lives Matter media activists. No NFL owner, executive or coach—regardless of race—wants his football decisions second-guessed in the tendentious way BLM activists Monday-morning-quarterback police officers.
Above all, talent drives NFL decisions. The proof can be seen in the Cincinnati Bengals’ choice of 20-year-old running back Joe Mixon in the second round of last month’s draft. Mr. Mixon enters the league after the release of year-old video showing the young African-American breaking a white woman’s jaw. Mr. Mixon reached an out-of-court settlement with the victim and apologized publicly.
In the NFL meritocracy, Mr. Mixon’s talent dictates that he be given an opportunity to redeem himself as a man while playing professional football. In the minds of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and owner Mike Brown, Mr. Mixon’s talents justify dealing with the controversy and baggage that accompany his employment. These same factors allowed former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick, who is also black, to land a job with the Philadelphia Eagles after spending time in prison for running a dogfighting operation.
The old white bigots running the NFL apparently control one of the few industries that grants black ex-cons a path to re-enter the workforce and excel economically. Given the felony-conviction rate, poverty and fatherlessness associated with young black men, you would think progressives would celebrate the league’s owners. Their patriotic league lives out the principles the U.S. ought to represent.
But for some reason progressive elites prefer the Hollywood version of America, where old liberal white men decide who gets a role on the team. It’s odd, though. The old white conservatives operate a sports league that enriches and champions African-Americans. The old white liberals control an industry that rightly is criticized for its neglect and tokenization of minority actors.
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