By Jason Keidel
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Three days ago, at the dead our of 11 p.m., thrilled to see the NFL on my screen again after a seven-month snooze, I slapped a harmless question on my FB page.
“Should the Jets call Colin Kaepernick?”
Had I asked about Aaron Rodgers, I’d be laughed off my laptop. Had I asked about Peyton Manning, I’d be directed toward a drug test. Had I made the more reasonable inquiry about Robert Griffin III or even A.J. McCarron, I’d have been ignored.
But even at that sleepy hour, in the shadow of midnight, there was a deluge of responses to Kaepernick, the NFL’s corporeal powder keg. And, unlike most players, the longer he goes without a job, the more spellbound the public becomes by it.
Just a few weeks from the NFL season, Kaepernick is still unemployed. And if the Ravens or Broncos or teams of greater timbre still balk on Kaepernick, then why not the Jets?
Some fans argue that if you’re going to tank, then do it right. Dive down to the bottom, bag the worst record, then grab Sam Darnold. Why fool around with 3-13 when 1-15 will get you the pick of the college litter?
That approach rarely works. For every “Suck for (Andrew) Luck” campaign, many others fail. There are just too many variables to tweak your 2018 roster in 2017. What if the USC QB doesn’t declare for the draft? What if he shreds his knee? What if the Jets somehow turn out to be better than we expected?
Also, it’s wholly unfair to Jets fans, who have spent good money on tickets and jerseys, who spend November and December bracing for bitter winds and cold rains and bad rosters and way more losses than wins. The least you can do is assure your customers that you’re trying.
Kaepernick is clearly better than any QB the Jets currently employ. The Jets’ presumed starter, Josh McCown, threw six touchdowns and six interceptions last season on a team that went 1-15, while Kaepernick tossed 16 TDs and four picks for a club that went 2-14. Kaepernick has a stronger arm, faster legs, and is nearly 10 years younger. And for a club like the Jets that has flatlined long before the season starts, Kaepernick would add some kind of sizzle, breathe life into that which is lifeless.
The pro-Kaep camp says it’s absurd that Greg Hardy and Joe Mixon get second chances, despite a galling episode or history of violence against women. Meawhile, Kaepernick toils in NFL purgatory because he took a knee before a football game. If you limit the scope strictly to that narrative, they’re obviously right.
When you add cultural and customer concerns, it gets murkier. You also don’t need Kaepernick’s girlfriend comparing Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis to Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson from “Django Unchained,” basically branding the Ravens’ boss a slave owner and Lewis his lackey. Not a good look. Nor do you get a job in Miami while sporting Fidel Castro T-shirts.
Kaepenick has made two major mistakes since his protest. First, he assumed he could partition his intentions. You can’t do what he did then decide who gets offended. You can’t say you knelt over police brutality but didn’t mean to disrespect the flag or veterans. For most Americans, the flag is wrapped around our values and freedoms and those who defend them.
But perhaps the biggest problem isn’t what Kaepernick’s fans or friends are saying, but rather what Kaepernick himself isn’t saying. When was the last time the embattled QB took the stage, dais or microphone to explain himself? If he so ardently wants back on the gridiron, why not tell us exactly where and how he stands on all this? Why be defined by everyone else, caught in a social media vortex that rarely represents anyone well?
Kaepernick’s silence has led to much of his PR plunge, to his girlfriend’s absurd statement, to a gaggle of online gangsters speaking for Kaepernick out of self-promotion, not out of selfless devotion to his health or future employment.
But still, if we walk back to the moral relativism in all this, why are we so threatened by someone who kneels for 90 seconds? My grandfather was an Army colonel. My uncle was a Marine. And I enlisted in the military at 18. I’m hardly losing sleep over Kaepernick. Sure, it bugged me, but I got over it and found a way to focus on things that actually impact my life.
Each person will metabolize the person and expression in their own way. But with Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett joining the growing chorus of protesting players, it seems this is becoming a trend, and perhaps making Kaepernick even less of a distraction.
A person can love his team, town and country and still want Kaepernick on his club. The NFL has drafted, signed and promoted players of exponentially lesser character (O.J. Simpson, anyone?). If Hardy, Mixon, Pacman Jones, Mike Vick and Ezekiel Elliott are afforded another chance, shouldn’t Kaepernick get one? Is Mixon more patriotic because he shattered a woman’s face but stood during the “Star-Spangled Banner”?
Jets owner Woody Johnson isn’t exactly on Kaepernick’s holiday shopping list, or the reverse. Johnson is a renowned Republican and Trump supporter, and likely regards Kaepernick’s protests with some kind of displeasure. Still, there’s no law against a gesture.
If the Jets give Kaepernick a shot they would be making a gesture, as well: that they actually care about the 2017 NFL season.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel