Less than two weeks ago, Colin Kaepernick’s NFL career seemed in jeopardy.
As the world caught onto his decision to sit during the national anthem to promote attention to social injustice, Kaepernick found himself at the center of controversy.
While many disagreed with the protest itself, the attention didn’t seem to help his already-tenuous grasp on a roster spot.
Kaepernick was benched in favour of Blaine Gabbert last season after struggling through nine games. Following three offseason surgeries, Kaepernick had lost weight and looked shaky throughout preseason as he struggled to get back his arm strength and conditioning. For a player already seemingly regressing, the physical struggles were ill-timed.
Fox’s Jay Glazer had reported that Kaepernick may not make the 49ers roster due almost solely to his declining physical skills. Meanwhile, Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman spoke to league executives who retched at the idea of signing Kaepernick because of his political stance. If Kaepernick didn’t make the 49ers roster, he might never make another NFL roster, it seemed.
The tables have since turned.
Kaepernick started the 49ers’ fourth preseason game and began the opening drive with efficient passing and a touchdown. He played well and easily made the 49ers roster, though he is still currently sitting behind Gabbert.
Through both the media storm of his protest and potentially declining skills, there were enough reasons for the 49ers to cut Kaepernick. They decided to stick with him.
Furthermore, Kaepernick’s stance seems to be winning more support. He made a small optical change before the Week 4 preseason game, opting to kneel during the national anthem instead of sit. After meeting with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret who tried out for the 49ers in 2015, Kaepernick explained that he felt taking a knee was more respectful to the military. He also applauded when military personnel were honored at the game. The optics seemed to have helped.
Kaepernick’s support keeps growing. 49ers teammate Eric Reid sat while Kaepernick took a knee in Week 4; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sat during the anthem. The entire Seahawks team is considering a surprise during the Week 1 singing of the national anthem. US soccer star Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the national anthem. Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall called Kaepernick a “patriot.” Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry said he applauds Kaepernick for taking a stand. President Barack Obama said Kaepernick is exercising his constitutional right.
The publicity is also helping Kaepernick’s cause. His jersey sales went from 20th on the 49ers to first in the NFL. Kaepernick said he will donate all of his jersey proceeds — which the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows estimates to be somewhere between $300,000 – $500,000 — to charities to support his cause. Kaepernick also said he’s going to donate the first $1 million he makes this season to charities.
All of which is to say that the reactions to Kaepernick’s stance are growing less vitriolic by the day.
In the meantime, Kaepernick is biding his time as far as football is concerned. When asked about beginning the season second on the quarterback depth chart, Kaepernick said (via East Bay Times):
“I have to wait my time, and work. I’ve been in this position before. Last time I was in this position, I ended up in the Super Bowl. So I continue to work and prepare for when that next opportunity comes.”
It stands in stark contrast to the idea that Kaepernick’s career could be over. Most in the NFL world think Kaepernick will, at some point, challenge Gabbert for the starting quarterback job.
As Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News notes, Kaepernick may not have had any idea where his protest would take him, and he may still not know. Though his critics remain, they even appear to be softening — the Santa Clara Police Union threatened to stop working 49ers games, but later relented, saying they games will be staffed as usual.
Kaepernick’s story may keep twisting and turning — it’s offered enough already in two weeks — but for now, the cloud that was hanging over his head seems to be dissipating.
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