Ultimately, Colin Kaepernick has to follow his heart. If he needs football as much as he loves football, he should seize the best opportunity, even if it is the only opportunity. And so far, the only football opportunity he has been offered is of the "none at all" variety."
But given what football has done to him lately and how much his world view has grown while outside it, I wonder why he’d bother anyway.
Kaepernick's name is back in the news, of course, grafted onto the Jimmy Garoppolo knee injury that almost surely ends his season and dramatically mars that of the San Francisco 49ers. It always happens when a quarterback of substance goes down, and sometimes it happens when his lawyer teases TMZ with vague hints of potential hookups with teams like the New England Patriots or the Oakland Raiders.
By all accounts, the 49ers are not interested in a second go-round with him, content instead to use C.J. Beathard as the starter and Billy Don OffTheStreet as a new backup. This simply might be a football decision by coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, though one should never assume that politics isn’t in there shoving its two cents in when it comes to Kaepernick.
Either way, the chance of a Kaepernick reunion in San Francisco is subatomic. And frankly, those of us who want to see if there are legally enforceable limits to the NFL’s hubris probably should view that lack of opportunity as a good thing.
For one, football is nobody’s friend unless you happen to be at the billionaire end of the funnel, as Garoppolo’s knee and hundreds of concussive incidents on Sunday alone can contest. This goes to Kaepernick’s all-encompassing need for the game, which might or might not exist and to which only he can attest.
For two, his collusion case against the league is frankly more important than his spot holding a clipboard and standing next to Shanahan until the moment the 49ers waive him because a quarterback less visible comes along. There would be something dismaying in the notion that challenging the status quo and its naked power could be so easily neutralized, and with such a small reward to weigh against all that assumed risk. Co-optation, thy name is backup quarterback.
Not that this will be put to the test, mind you. Even if Lynch and Shanahan weren’t viscerally offended by Kaepernick’s protest milieu (and we have no knowledge that suggests that is either true or false, as they have both deftly avoided the subject), Shanahan gains nothing as head coach having Kaepernick on the roster unless he is absolutely convinced beyond all argument that Kaepernick is the best alternative to run an offense Kaepernick barely knows and would need weeks to learn. In the hyper-practical world in which they live, coaches think of risk-reward, too, and they don’t risk anything on behalf of a backup quarterback.
Kaepernick has been playing for bigger stakes, namely to show (or fail in the attempt) that even at its most elemental level the NFL is not a meritocracy at all but just another company where the market can be fixed for an agreed-upon goal by men and women who ostensibly are supposed to be competing.
But if they offered, and he wanted it that much, then so be it. It is, after all, his life, which is the core of what we’ve been talking about all this time. His activation would energize Donald Trump and maybe depress Nike’s market value (which has risen $6 billion since the ad campaign), but those are all calculations Kaepernick would have to make himself.
It’s just that in this case, like all the others to date, he won’t have to.