Is This American?

The Kaepernick Cut and American Hypocrisy

I will just go right to it. It is perplexing and therefore ultimately a shame that Colin Kaepernick is not on an NFL roster right now. The Miami Dolphins recently "kicked the tires" on him before deciding to dump $10 million plus on a dude, Jay Cutler, that recently retired and essentially said, "I'm done." The Baltimore Ravens are still mulling over signing Colin Kaepernick or not as well. Reportedly, the head coach and general manager are game, but the owner has to "pray" about it. What? What is going on here? Why is this story even important to you even though you may have absolutely no interest in sports aside from going to that local sports bar that drafts that really good beer or makes that deliciously awesome craft burger you like? I am going to explain that here. Basically, this is a story about human rights and American hypocrisy in how we decide to "defend" those rights placed in a real time unfolding story that is happening RIGHT NOW in sports. So, here goes.

Basically, I want to pose two questions here that I then plan to answer and thus settle what I think is a pretty serious issue, one more serious than we know. First question is simple, "why is Colin Kaepernick not signed?" Second question is, "Is Kaepernick not being signed shedding light on a deeper American issue, and should I be concerned about that?" Let's jump into the first question.

When I look at Kaepernick's statistics over his career, and particularly what I think may be his last season in the NFL, I am confused why he is currently not signed to a team as at least a backup quarterback. Firstly, I want you to go to Google and search "Kaepernick career stats", OK? Look at them. I know I just made you work, but you and I both know it is really easy to look up things on Google so get over it. Thanks. What I want you to notice is his good stats from 2012–2014 and then compare them to his stats from 2015 and 2016. Basically, there are two things you should conclude, and that is that Kaepernick was pretty good his first three years when he was on the field, he sucked in 2015, but he began to bounce back in 2016. What is my point in this? 2016 was the year when Kaepernick went social activist and took a knee which eventually found himself cut. We know this. My point in also showing you these stats is to dispel the lie that Kaepernick got cut because he was not performing on the field. Sure, he really had a bad 2015. That happens when you are an NFL quarterback. The NFL eventually figures you out, and you have to then adjust or tank. Kaepernick did tank but the 49ers adjusted and showed that he was their guy by bringing in Chip Kelly in 2016. The statistics clearly show that Kaepernick improved in 2016. So, from this fact, one would rationally conclude that he would be re-signed and that Kelly would also be re-signed. Right? No. Both are currently out of the league. Let that sink in. Colin "The Social Activist" Kaepernick is not just likely out of the league, but Chip Kelly is out of the league now too. He recently took a gig with ESPN as a studio analyst and commentator. Kelly essentially has said, "I'm done with this." He, like Kaepernick, and like Jon Gruden, has finally had enough of the NFL and they have said, "Holla at ya boy, deuces." I know, I know that you want to make this simple, that it is basically about a guy that couldn't keep his mouth shut, that disrespected America, or that started to tank, and that is why the NFL axed Kaepernick, but it is more complicated than that, and it is not even really about Kaepernick at all. Let me throw a few more characters in this. Let's talk about the New England Patriots and Tim Tebow. Yep, that's right. Tebow is a part of this too. Like life, the universe, and your personal computer cache that saves everything you click on to then shove ads at you where ever you decide to go on the internet, everything is connected.

We all know about Tebow's insane run with the Broncos in 2011. "Tebow Time" will forever be a WTH aberration of magic, mystery, and deus ex machina that will forever scratch our heads. With a poor 1–4 start from Kyle Orton, the Broncos reluctantly handed over the starting job to Tebow who then would only unleash a hysterical run of freakish late game wins that always seemed to defy mental rationale and earthly physics. Seriously, even though we have tried to bury what happened in that brief time with Tebow starting and with no chains attached behind suppressed emotions and thoughts of him being "garbage" and "un-prototypical", Tebow for that brief time was almost unstoppable. He took the city of Denver by storm and also the country. I remember reading a Forbes magazine article that said whenever Tim Tebow's name or face was mentioned or was on a screen, viewership and response rate would sky rocket. Essentially he was money, living money. The NFL, opposing coaches, as well as his own coach could not control the hysteria that was Tebowmania, and it was obvious. The problem, though, with Tebow was that he insistently decided to pray in a very overt and even seemingly obnoxious manner during big moments on the field. He would live his Christian faith very unashamedly and with pride so strong that it would only rival a Black Lives Matter or Gay Pride parade in its veracity. He also was needy. If you wanted to have Tebow on your roster and have him succeed you "needed" to do it all his way: play only to his strengths with no exceptions. This is too much control to give up, for anyone. By the way, I am totally down with parades. They are fun. This is America, and if anywhere in the world a person or group should be allowed to have a parade, it should be here. Yet I find it interesting that it is here that parades of all various types come with the most contention and adversity instead of embrace, respect, and understanding. Interesting. Anyway, back to my topic...

Tebow was an entity that could not be controlled and that was the problem. The NFL wants that, control.

Tebow Time was on a short leash getting shorter. The "god killer" came. If there is anything that is less magical and more methodical, it is the mind of Bill Belichick and the ways of the Patriots. When I think of Belichick and the Patriots, I think of how Spock in the original Star Trek series would deduce any spatial anomaly or mystery with cold blunt honest science, leaving no wonder left to ponder. The Patriots essentially did this to Tebow Time via an extreme pelting in the second round of the playoffs that same magical year. It took the arguably greatest coach and quarterback in the NFL to kill Tebow Time. Broncos GM and legend John Elway thanked Tebow by cutting him after that. It was understandable. Peyton Manning was available. Who could pass that up? The following season Tebow would find himself on the New York Jets with attention grabbing sponge Rex Ryan, who, from the start, it was obvious only intended to use Tebow as a tool. Tebow would only be a gimmick, coming into the game on certain downs or situations. Rex had no idea how Tebow Time worked, and he didn't care. He didn't know that Tebow Time was less about magic and more about Tebow grinding away at a defense for four quarters until they finally broke, and by that I mean the very core of them, their human will and soul. You had to commit to Tebow for it to work. You have to commit to Kaepernick too. No one wants to give up control, not many coaches, general managers, or owners either. Definitely not the NFL, either. No, Rex just wanted to use the instant ratings he knew he would get with Tebow, nothing more. Once his use for Tebow was finished, he was a waste, like utility. With Tebow's career essentially done, the Patriots, ironically, signed and then cut him in 2013. Tebow Time must have made a slight impression. Though it may have been his faith that was the attraction. Rumors were circulating that the Patriots' clubhouse was a mess, highlighted by the fiasco and arrest of recently deceased Aaron Hernandez at that time, and that the Pats signed Tebow to essentially be a clubhouse pastor. Chip Kelly, then with the Eagles, signed Tebow in 2015. It was obvious that Tebow was Chip Kelly's effort to recreate some semblance of Marcus Mariota, whom he missed the boat on in the 2015 draft. Hey, by the way, there goes that name Chip Kelly again. Interesting. Are you tracking? Tebow would dazzle in garbage time in a preseason game, and it made so much of an impression that NFL analysts thought he was a lock to make the Eagles' roster. Not so. It seemed as though Kelly wanted to sign Tebow, that Tebow was his choice but it was not the choice of higher ups. Tebow was needy, of course. Kelly's offensive style of fast-paced option, run and read, was just not what the GM's and the NFL at large wanted. Why? If you ask me, I believe it is because the NFL is all about marketing and marketing a certain way. If you have a read option and heavy run offense, the quarterback gets lost in the scheme. He is not the offense but simply a part of it. That is hard to market and make money off of. The NFL wants quarterbacks that behave themselves and stand tall and long in the pocket throwing passes far and many to save their triumphant teams, all the while having white, heterosexual, and not too obnoxiously religious skin. Reminds me of a Civil War general or something. Maybe we haven't gotten passed that, the Civil War? Maybe we still are re-living that over and over in our social issues, politics, societal agendas, etc., and we need our quarterbacks to be those heroes and propitiators of what America better damn be and remain? To do so our quarterbacks have to look and act the part. The same boring part. The same boring look. As I stated earlier, the 49ers tried to give it a shot to revitalize Kaepernick, and it was working. So what happened?

Again, if you do not fit the system or way, then you get the door. Kaepernick, Tebow, Vick, Kelly, and also the Patriots. Or at least the NFL tried with them. The Patriots fought the NFL and won, but for everyone else, if you are not on the right side, you lose. Just ask yourself why quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez are still in the NFL. What is going on here? Something is not right. What I am trying to say that maybe the reason why Kaepernick, Tebow, Vick, etc. are not playing quarterback may not be because of their play but for more complicated reasons, reasons that essentially disallows the NFL from being in control and doing things in a way that protects the brand. I can go on about how certain players seem to never get in trouble, or if in trouble, not for long, while other players are always in the news. I can go on about how certain players get committed too hard, fast, and enduringly, and others get slighted and abandoned. I can.

To be fair, however, some of the ways the NFL protects their brand are justified but is all of it?

I was talking to a friend recently about these thoughts over the NFL and its ways, and he commented back about a scene from Django Unchained where two slaves are forced to fight each to the death in front of a slave owner, played amazingly by Leonardo Dicaprio, for sport. The scene is so intensely disgusting, not just for the gore, but also because of the mental acknowledged parallel to the reality of the pre-Civil War American past that was laden with overt human subjugation, inhuman acts of civil violence, rape, murder, exploitation, political and social corruption, and also every possible thing that I can not think of including here that a person can imagine another human could do to another without remorse or justice all due to the lawful practice of slavery and the social acceptance of human inequality that was the staple of early American culture. This reality, writer and director Quentin Tarantino communicates, very effectively, is disturbing because it is also intended to be a social parallel to the racial issues still present today as well as a stark reminder of our infant birthing as a country, which was not all too long ago. Tarantino in Django Unchained was trying to communicate a world where people only mattered as much as their pre-determined utility or assigned human value indicated. Like so many places in life, this scene of sanctioned human on human barbarism is true in how society operates. It is also true with so many areas in our culture today by how we depict humans on television or how we depict ourselves on social media. Is this the right angle? Am I interesting enough? How valuable am I? How many likes did that get? I can go on with how we have utilitarian-ized so much of culture and ourselves, however, I want to focus on the NFL. The NFL has done it too, and it is obvious with how Kaepernick has been ousted by the league. The NFL is a "next man up" league unless you are picked as a darling, one that is used as a face of a franchise or of the league. Some of you might be saying, "what is the big deal with protecting your brand? That is what companies do." I know, I get it. But here is the problem: the NFL is no longer a brand that can afford to protect its own interest. When people across the world see the NFL they see America. The NFL represents America and not itself anymore to the world, regardless of if they like that reality or not. Therefore, it is time for the NFL to grow up and face that reality.

America is a place that symbolizes and promotes freedom, equality, and equal opportunity for all kinds of people. That means freedom to express beliefs as well. Kaepernick kneeling was not a disrespect to America, it ironically was an expression of America. I can not express enough how obvious this is and yet how ironic it is when we move in a different direction. The NFL needs to express America and not the interests of its self-promoting brand alone that is controlled by 32 owners, who mostly happen to be one ethnicity, might I add. Diversity is a good thing. It is not petty. It is important if we are American. Just imagine something with me. Imagine an NFL where Kaepernick was allowed to express himself and still be a starting quarterback. A place also where Tebow Time was still happening here and there each season? It would be a crazy place. A place that would be out of control. It would be free. It would be American, truly American. Look, I am not a freedom for the sake of freedom kind of guy. I am pretty conservative, personally. But, I understand that America means something and that something needs to exist in this world. That something is freedom. I do not agree with every view, belief, religion, or perspective. I believe, however, that America has decided to call itself that place in the world where you can coexist with those that live differently than you, and America needs to be what it says it is. How the NFL has decided to handle the Kaepernick story is a good place to start. Since the NFL is so large and synonymous with virtually everything we love and value about America, it is time for the NFL to act like it all the way as well. Call it a calling or responsibility that, though the NFL did not ask for, it is obvious that the league needs to take up. The world and America know it; that is why Roger Goodell is booed every draft day now. Time for the NFL to finally get it. It is time for the NFL to grow up.

Howard Thomas
Howard Thomas

I am a creative writer and story teller that enjoys writing about movie and sports narratives in connection to culture, history, race, faith, and politics. 

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Is This American?