Sports commentary: Kaepernick controversy

Illustration by Raya Deussen

For a player who was once drawing comparisons to NFL Most Valuable Player Cam Newton, it has been a long and graceless fall from stardom. After taking over for an injured Alex Smith in the middle of the 2012 season, he led the San Francisco 49ers to the two consecutive NFC championship games and the 2012 Super Bowl. During the 2016 season, he decided to take a knee during the national anthem and was ridiculed by fans across the nation for his lack of respect and patriotism. Fans burned his jersey. Upon entering free agency at the end of the 2016 season, Colin Kaepernick is still looking for a job. Kaepernick, who continues to be an advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, has become a victim himself of the very system that he is protesting.

The NFL is made up of 32 franchises, 31 of which are owned by white men. After watching the first two weeks of the season and seeing the terrible performances from more than a quarter of the teams, it is strange to think that an athlete with Kaepernick’s skillset is not yet employed, even as a backup. Thus, the owners and the fans of the NFL have spelled it’s downfall, as young players and other fans are turning their attention to the NBA, where players speak openly about police brutality and advocacy for African Americans in today’s society.

Kaepernick has received support from his fellow football players as well as other professional athletes. Richard Sherman, cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks and who in the past was a huge rival of Kaepernick’s, was one of the most notable names to come to the quarterback’s aid.

In an interview with USA Today, Sherman said, “So the guys not speaking up for him are doing him a disservice. There should be a lot more guys saying something. Most guys are like, ‘I don’t want my job to end up the same way.’”

Sherman’s teammate, defensive end Michael Bennett, felt a similar way about the issue.

“I think it shows the racial divide in the league,” Bennett told USA TODAY Sports. “There are (accused) rapists and drunk drivers in the league. But he’s somebody who didn’t do anything to anybody. But you hear owners say, ‘We have to ask our fan base first.’ But the Giants kept Josh Brown (amid a domestic violence issue). Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of rape twice. The organization didn’t turn their back on him. They gave him a contract extension. Kaepernick didn’t do anything. That’s why racism is the biggest issue in America.”

Bennett hit the nail on the head. Kaepernick’s exclusion from the 2017 season marks a turning point for the NFL, a league that has been marred by mishandled domestic violence cases and handing out harsher punishments for smoking marijuana than for knocking women unconscious. Despite many vocal supporters and dismal quarterback performances from many NFL teams, Kaepernick remains unemployed.

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