Vince Lombardi once said, “Football is a game of inches, and inches make the champion”, and he just happens to be the name of the trophy that all 32 teams in the NFL are chasing. The path towards being Super Bowl champion has more winding turns than the most white-knuckling roads delicately clasped against mountainsides. A fortunate inch in the NFL has the significant ability to transform you from a lowly zero to a monumental hero, but what happens when your career spirals in reverse; from a hero to a publicly hated zero? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Colin Kaepernick.
The year was 2012, and Colin Kaepernick was a backup QuarterBack for the San Francisco 49ers. A backup at the time, but would become a player that would rewrite the scripts of that very season with captivating calligraphy. In the 2012 season, in a game against the New York Jets, Kaepernick scored his first career touchdown on a seven-yard run, as throughout the early season, he was used sporadically as a quarterback in special situations. One play can determine everything, and it was an injury to starter Quarterback, Alex Smith that sent the first wave of reverberations that would alter Kaepernick's future. In Week 10 of the season against the St. Louis Rams, Kaepernick replaced starter Alex Smith, who had suffered a concussion. Kaepernick was handed the keys to the kingdom, and he did not falter, as he would later rule with a raised, clenched fist.
Chapter 1 – The Hero
With Smith still recovering, Kaepernick got his first NFL start the next game on November 19, during a Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. Kaepernick completed 16-of-23 for 246 yards with two touchdowns in a 32–7 win. America began to take note.
The winning mentality, the panache that Kaepernick exuded birthed a quarterback dilemma for the 49ers coach John Harbaugh. Alex Smith was cleared to play the day before the following game, but again Harbaugh stuck with Kaepernick. In a rematch of the 2012 playoffs against the New Orleans Saints, the 49ers won 31–21 with Kaepernick throwing for a touchdown and running for another, triggering another wave: Kaepernick was made starting QB for the foreseeable season.
Kaepernick took the 49ers to the playoffs, and his first career postseason in style with a big victory over the Green Bay Packers, 45–31, setting an NFL single-game record for most rushing yards by a quarterback with 181, breaking Michael Vick's record of 173 in a 2002 regular-season game. He also broke the 49ers postseason rushing record for any position.
In the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 28–24 with Kaepernick completing 16-of-21 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown. The team advanced to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans against the Baltimore Ravens. Kaepernick threw for a touchdown and ran for another, but the 49ers fell behind early and could not complete the comeback, losing 31–34.
Kaepernick never really got to repeat his heroics of going to the Super Bowl the following season, as his 49ers would lose out to eventual winners, Seattle Seahawks, in the NFC Championship game. Seasons after that saw the 49ers fail to make it to the playoffs, and just like that the fires on Kaepernick's career reformed into feeble embers.
Chapter 2 – The Land of the (Almost) Free
The 2016 season for Colin Kaepernick was marred with political conversations. The QB chose to "controversially" kneel during the national anthem of a preseason game, in which most took major offence too. Politics crept into the NFL and made a comfortable home for itself, still continuing to live its life as we speak. Kaepernick’s so-called, act of defiance and disrespect towards the American flag, coincided with his battle for a starting QB spot - losing his spot to Blaine Gabbert.
Kaepernick chose to take a knee rather than stand during the 'Star-Spangled Banner' anthem, because at the time – and still on-going – police brutality reached an immensity that was hard to fathom. In a post-game interview, he stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder". He was right, this was bigger than the NFL, but most chose their weapon of choice: ignorance - an ignorance that shape-shifted into a giant mallet, used to bash Kaepernick with.
The goalposts were moved in order to validate their disdain for Kaepernick’s conviction. Contradictions were buried into the deepest of grounds so they could liken his beliefs to an act of treason. How could a country that has, “Land of the free” indoctrinated into their psyche, chastise an individual for exercising his own right of freedom?
Chapter 3 - The Villain
Kaepernick was a hero for the NFL, back in 2012, where he took the chains of control and elegantly danced away from bloodthirsty defenders, where he would put his cannon-like arm into overdrive to pin-pointedly find wide-receiver after wide-receiver in the tightest of crevices, where he would pose his meticulously chiseled body on magazine cover after magazine cover. The NFL loved him then, opening their arms as wide as the eyes could possibly see. That was then. Now? Now, Kaepernick, who’s beautiful afro hair swallows the attention of every room like a black hole. His eyes awakened to the tribulations people of colour face with precise lucidity. Who in a vast land of America, kneels against the wrath of a country that has betrayed his people. He cannot expect the same arms that were once opened for him to be there again. Those arms have closed for good, with nothing but abject coldness in its place.
Kaepernick lived long enough to become an unfortunate villain. Though, choosing to kneel in the face of injustice was merely the tip of the iceberg for him, as during the election process for a new president, he exercised his right not to vote, creating whirlpools of upheavals up and down the country. Kaepernick's mindset was at the apex of thinking the candidates for the presidency did not have the required surgical hands to handle the plight of people of colour. However, the generation above Kaepernick's unfurled disdain upon him with tumultuous thunder. Was he a misunderstood hero, a selfish villain or a masked vigilante?
Regardless, the NFL turned its back on one of its former heroes through a loophole. Blackballed is the word that comes to mind. If you watch TV long enough, they’ll have you convinced that Kaepernick is surplus to requirements or he's just not a good QB anymore. This man, who’s only crime was to stand up and empower his fellow people of colour, is made to stand before us, a criminal that has committed the most heinous crimes. And if you watch the TV even longer, they’ve now employed some of his own people of colour to speak against him. A deconstruction of a black figure that we know all too well.
Michael Vick, recently came out - in real apologist fashion – stating that the reason why Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job in the NFL is because of how he looks. That beautiful afro hair that I spoke about before, is the sole reason why Kaepernick doesn’t have a job, said Vick, a retired QB who once went to prison for organised dog fighting. It’s 2017 and we are still being fed the same bullshit about appearance being a bad deterrent in the NFL, though the league itself is predominately played by black people - who sport styles from dreadlocks, to gold teeth, to myriads of tattoos occupying their bodies.
Let's correct the narrative! Colin Kaepernick does not have a job in the NFL, because he obtained the lucidity to step away from the light that was blinding him from the real issues of the world. He had the temerity to stand up against the plight of his people, using the platform of the NFL. However, the NFL snatched away the platform from under Kaepernick like a snug rug that once caressed his feet.
Courage is a hard mental skill to grasp. It grows from a seed, yet it requires consistent watering to nurture into something robust and enduring. Kaepernick found courage by not standing during the national anthem, and strengthened his conviction throughout the year, involving himself in causes that uplift people of colour, choosing not to vote in the presidential election. In a sport that requires a vital component of courage to succeed, it comes across as incredulous, that no NFL team has taken the courage to sign Kaepernick. The soup of contradiction continues to be passed around the NFL, with an added garnish of ignorance to give it that extra sting.
The path that Colin Kaepernick has chosen to traverse, has been a winding road of courageousness. In the face of being shunned out of the game he almost tamed - with his dancing legs, and his monstrous throwing arm - he continues to offer his precarious career up as a sacrifice for the sake of injustices felt across communities. He’s a hero that lost his cape in the wind that the NFL blew hastily off his back, yet his love continues to spread like roots from beneath a tree, changing people’s lives for the better.