Ron Cook: Colin Kaepernick’s dues are paid and his chance is coming

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PITTSBURGH — You’ll never guess who has endorsed Colin Kaepernick for a job in the NFL.

“I would love to see him get another shot,” President Donald Trump told Sinclair’s Scott Thurman on Wednesday. “Obviously, he has to play well.”

That is the same Trump, who, during a rally in Alabama in 2017, referred to the NFL players who kneeled for the national anthem — Kaepernick first and foremost among them — as “sons of bitches” and demanded that they be fired.

Has the tone in America changed or what since the May 25 death of Black man George Floyd at the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin?

Kaepernick was fired by the San Francisco 49ers and blackballed by the NFL when he became the first player to kneel for the anthem in a peaceful protest against racial injustice and police brutality. He is only 32 but hasn’t been in the league since the 2016 season. He and former teammate Eric Reid settled a collusion grievance against the NFL a year ago for something less than a combined $10 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Now there is growing speculation Kaepernick will end up back in the NFL.

“Well, listen, if he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then, obviously, it’s going to take a team to make that decision,” Roger Goodell told ESPN last week. “But I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.”

Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said the league’s teams “would be crazy” not to work out Kaepernick during this offseason.

“A talent of that caliber that’s available, under these circumstances that we’re in right now, I would think most teams would explore that,” Lynn said.

Signing Kaepernick for the 2017 season would have been the right thing to do, but NFL teams were afraid of the blowback from fans and especially from Trump. But now? It’s a little more complicated, even if a majority of fans finally realize that Kaepernick’s protest wasn’t against the flag or the military heroes who fought and are fighting to protect it. Clearly, there won’t be the outrage this season that Kaepernick experienced when he took a knee. Adrian Peterson, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray are among the NFL players who have said they will kneel this fall — if there is a season — as did Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also has said he would kneel in support of his players.

Still, there are hard questions about Kaepernick that need to be answered.

Three years away from the game is an eternity. Kaepernick would have to learn a new offensive system and wouldn’t get the benefit of a full offseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just think you bring a guy in, you work him out, sit down and talk and pick his brain,” Lynn said. “Colin’s been a football player his whole life. He played in the Super Bowl. I know he’s got a high IQ at the position. So I just think it just comes down to the physical shape and his ability to do what he does. I believe you can figure out real quick where he’s at in his career.”

Would an NFL team or coach feel the pressure to start Kaepernick after all he’s been through and the way he was blackballed?

Face it, all eyes will be on Kaepernick if he signs with a team. Players in his locker room would welcome having him if they believe he can help them win. But some fans? Not so much. It’s going to take a strong coach to stand up to the scrutiny. Mike Tomlin could handle it. So could Bill Belichick. But a lot of the others?

Would Kaepernick be willing to be a backup quarterback? Or even a third-stringer?

Only Kaepernick can answer that question.

The Chargers might make the most sense for him if he wants a legitimate chance to start. Their starter is journeyman Tyrod Taylor, their backup No.1 draft pick Justin Herbert from Oregon. It isn’t hard to imagine Kaepernick winning the starting job.

I’d love to see Kaepernick sign with the Steelers, but I don’t think there’s a spot for him. The team has consistently talked up Mason Rudolph as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup and didn’t even bother to flirt with veteran free agent quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Cam Newton during the offseason. But wouldn’t you have loved for the Steelers to have had Kaepernick last season after Roethlisberger was hurt and Rudolph was ineffective after his rotten night in Cleveland in November? Kaepernick certainly would have been a big step up from Duck Hodges — maybe big enough for the team to make the playoffs.

Would Kaepernick be laser-focused on football with a new team?

To his credit, Kaepernick has shown he is willing to give up his football career to fight for social justice. That’s called commitment. Good for him, because racial equality is more important than football. Kaepernick has become a leading voice on the subject and agreed to join Medium’s board of directors on Thursday. He will write stories on race and civil rights for the online publishing platform.

“I met Colin a couple years ago and have been wanting to work with him ever since,” Medium CEO Evan Williams said in a statement. “I know he will bring valuable insights and leadership to Medium, especially in this moment when the world is finally catching up to his vision on racial justice.”

Goodell indicated there will be a spot in the NFL for Kaepernick if playing quarterback again isn’t in his future.

“We welcome him … trying to help us deal with some very complex, difficult issues that have been around for a long time,” he said.

One way or the other, Kaepernick could make the NFL and the world, for that matter, a better, more inclusive place. It’s a shame hardly anyone listened to him when he tried in 2016. But better late than never, right?


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