Greg Cote

Kaepernick, NFL reach collusion settlement, but stain on league stays until he’s signed

Nike made controversial football player Colin Kaepernick the centerpiece of its ad campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” slogan.
Nike made controversial football player Colin Kaepernick the centerpiece of its ad campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of the company’s “Just Do It” slogan. Nike

We keep waiting (and waiting) for Colin Kaepernick to be in the news again for the one right reason left: Because an NFL team — just one — was brave enough and smart enough to sign him.

Instead he is in the news for ancillary reasons that only help explain why his blackballing enters its third year, its stain on the league and on commissioner Roger Goodell becoming indelible by degrees.

Friday, Kaepernick reached an undisclosed settlement with the NFL over his collusion grievance against the league. It was not unexpected. Kaepernick knew how difficult collusion is to legally prove, while the league wanted to avoid having Goodell and several team owners deposed and having their cell phone records and emails examined.

Whether the collusion settlement crumbles a wall and makes more likely Kaepernick’s return to the league is unknowable, but optimism is tough to feel.

Meantime, this week, the owner of a sporting goods store in Colorado said he’s going out of business. Why? Because he suddenly stopped selling all Nike products. And why was that? Because owner Stephen Martin was put off by Kaepernick’s means of social protest, and took a stand of his own after Nike aired that supportive Kaepernick ad campaign last fall with the tagline, “Believe in something. Even if it mean sacrificing everything.”

Your beliefs cost you dearly, Mr. Martin.

Guess what. So have Kaepernick’s.

Also this week, former NBA commissioner David Stern said on a Bloomberg Business of Sports podcast to air Monday that he thinks Kaepernick would still have a job after kneeling during the national anthem if he were an NBA player. (Which rang instantly true if only because Adam Silver is such a more progressive commissioner than Goodell.

Almost forgot. Republican state lawmakers in Wisconsin this week refused to pass a resolution honoring black Americans unless Kaepernick’s name was removed. Hmm. Kaepernick last year was presented the prestigious W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, awarded by Harvard University for “contributions to African and African American culture and the life of the mind.” Not good enough for Wisconsin, apparently!

The week’s biggest Kaepernick news of course was that the new Alliance of American Football, an eight-team spring league that pays players a modest $250,000 over three years, approached Kaepernick about playing. An unconfirmed Associated Press report said Kaepernick demanded $20 million.

But the very idea he might be expected to resort to a startup spring league to prove himself adds insult to the (perhaps mortal) injury his career already has suffered.

Here is a dual-threat QB still in his physical prime at age 31, one who has led a team to a Super Bowl and when he last played in 2016 threw 17 touchdown passes with only four interceptions.

That also was the season he championed the wave of NFL player protests of police shootings of unarmed black men. It was a righteous call for social justice. Because it involved kneeling during the anthem, it also was/is polarizing.

He hasn’t played since.

Quarterbacks with jobs in the league currently include Derek Anderson, Matt Barkley, Jeff Driskel, Blaine Gabbert, Brian Hoyer, Josh Johnson, Mark Sanchez, and Brandon Weeden among other talent and resume’ lightweights.

But Kaepernick can’t find work?

Kareem Hunt, seen kicking a woman in a video, is back in the league despite facing a suspension for domestic abuse. That and other stuff that might get you arrested does not stop NFL teams from signing you.

But taking a stand by kneeling for social justice — that does stop teams from signing you, evidently.

(I reached out to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for his thoughts. His is one of the teams that might have needed a QB like Kaepernick. And his Ross Initiative In Sports for Equality (RISE) has social aims shared by Kaepernick. But Ross declined the interview request).

The NFL and its teams have turned Kaepernick into a living martyr, killing his career because of his beliefs.

Harvard called him an “Athlete and Activist” in presenting him the WE.B. Du Bois Medal.

The phrase isn’t an oxymoron. He is allowed to be both. Except in the NFL, alas.

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Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.