FOXBORO — The best way to characterize Benjamin Watson’s reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s one-man pro day scheduled for Saturday? Hopefully mystified.
“I think that’s unprecedented,” Watson said when I asked him for his thoughts on the NFL-organized effort to showcase Kaepernick.
Watson knows that it is indeed unprecedented. But even though his antennae are up as to what the NFL’s motivations might be, he instead focused Wednesday on the possible end result.
“I support Colin,” Watson said. “I hope that this leads to him getting a job.”
But, he added, “I don’t know why this would lead to it when nothing else in the last three years would. Honestly, teams have had several opportunities to bring him in at any point. I don’t know why it’s come to this but if this is the way he’s going to get a job if he deserves to be in the league and he can play, then I will say great.
“When I started hearing the details of it, it seems … kind of odd,” added Watson. “I will wait to hear more because I’m sure more details will come out. So I’ll be waiting and hopefully we’ll get a little more clarity about the ‘why’ and the timing and the Saturday and all the other questions everybody else has about it. But at the root of it, if somebody sees Colin through this workout that wouldn’t have seen him before and he can play, then that’s (ideal) if that’s what he wants.”
As Watson said, more details will come out about the workout and they will be in response to the legitimate questions asked.
For instance, why does the league need to hold a workout for a player every team in the league presumably could have worked out privately over the last 800 days?
And why did the league feel compelled to trumpet the fact they were doing it by tipping off select reporters of big news that would be dropping this past Tuesday, as Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported.
And why was Kaepernick given two hours to accept or decline the offer?
Why on a Saturday in-season when every scout worth his salt is working a college game?
Was there supposed to be a list provided by the league of the teams sending a representative as has been reported and — confusingly — refuted?
Is the aim of said list — and whether it’s shared or not — an effort to determine teams who may be interested in Kaepernick as a quarterback?
Or is this hypothetical list a means to identify which teams either support Kaepernick’s effort to return to the NFL, or want to appear as if they do so they do to keep critics at bay?
And the reverse: Is a team that doesn’t scout Kaepernick on a Saturday in mid-November 2019 not sufficiently attuned to social justice concerns in general or specific to Kaepernick?
Is interest genuine? Or is it the equivalent of a lapel pin?
This seems to me, as I said to Watson, a CYA (cover your ass) attempt by the league to make it seem like the player wasn’t colluded against.
“Why now?” asked Watson. “They could have CYA’d a long time ago. That’s what’s odd to me, the timing. Why now? I’m not privy to those conversations.”
In my opinion, no American with a significant platform has been more insightful than Watson when articulating his feelings on why it’s Kaepernick’s right to respectfully protest.
These words were part of his first comments on the topic from September of 2016.
Before competition, as I stand in shoulder pads and cleats, my helmet in my left hand, adrenaline flowing and my heart raging under my right, I never forget the ills of America but for a moment I envision its potential, remember its prosperity and give thanks to God for the land He has placed me in and the people I love who live in it.
I stand, because this mixed bag of evil and good is MY home. And because it's MY home my standing is a pledge to continue the fight against all injustice and preserve the greatest attributes of the country, including Colin Kaepernick's right to kneel.
His actions and similar actions by figures of the past and present are a vital part of our journey and a key component of the equation for social change and should be respected as such.
When he was with the Ravens and that team considered bringing in Kaepernick back in 2017, they asked Watson about it.
"I think the biggest thing they have to decide is, in the process of deciding, is he a good fit for our football team?" Watson said. "That’s the hope that I would have for any team. I would hope that any team, when it comes to Colin Kaepernick, would look at his skills and look at their needs and say, ‘OK, I’m going to give him an opportunity, because I have a need in that area, and he can fill it,’ and nothing else. That’s what you want as a player. That’s the respect you want as a player. All the other stuff is important; don’t get me wrong. But when it comes to football ... the reason we call sports an ‘equalizer’ is because you can come in here, have a different view, but if you can perform and are respectful, then you can have a chance."
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti went as far as to ask fans to “pray for” the Ravens when deciding whether or not to sign Kaepernick. The Ravens never signed him. The reason, according to former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, was because of a tweet issued by Kaepernick’s girlfriend that painted the Bisciotti-Ray Lewis relationship as akin to the brutal plantation owner/compliant slave dynamic from the movie "Django Unchained."
Ironically, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about Kaepernick finding an NFL home in 2017, his answer was: "Those are football decisions that each team has to make. What they think are the right ways to make their football teams better. Those are decisions I don't get involved with, decisions that rightfully belong with the club."
Why is the NFL doing this now? Protests during the anthem have receded. They are barely discussed. Isn’t that what the NFL ultimately wanted?
Suppose Kaepernick does wow a team and is signed to an active roster. The conversation as to whether he’s standing, sitting or kneeling when "The Star-Spangled Banner" begins will be 24-7 before, during and long after the final notes are played.
Watson’s response was interesting and enlightening. And it illustrated my disconnect in processing the protests — empathetically in general but cynically as to Kaepernick’s motive and timing — from Watson or someone who isn’t merely spectating on what it’s like to be black in America but is living it.
“The (controversy about Kaepernick kneeling) was on its way to (receding) in the beginning until the president called football players SOBs,” said Watson.
My mind whispered to me, “Oh yeah. I forgot…”
Watson clearly has not.
“When the president said that in Alabama in 2017, there were a handful of players protesting,” he pointed out. “Some people didn’t like it. Some people did but it wasn’t as big a deal as it became. But when he said that, that’s when you saw the mass protest during the anthem. And for those several weeks after. (Donald Trump) ignited it.
“I was in Baltimore and we were the first team to play (after Trump’s comments) because we were in London so we were ahead of everyone and we didn’t have time to digest it,” he recalled. “Guys were hurt, guys were CRYING, Tom. Our president said that about us. Dudes were shook up.
“Whether you voted for him or not, there was still respect,” he added. “This is our president, this is the leader of our country. For him to say that, that’s what ignited the second round. So it reignited things with Colin and that made it turn the way it did. Now we’ll see where this goes.”
If it goes anywhere it all. A lot can happen between now and this Saturday's workout. But, as I worked on this piece, there was a line from another post by Watson that stuck out as the perfect note to end on.
“Conflict when handled correctly strengthens. Conflict when mismanaged destroys.”
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