Blackballed or not, Kaepernick’s politics are no cause for punishment

Punishment on the basis of politics sets dangerous precedent, writes Chris Whitbeck

Blackballed or not, Kaepernick’s politics are no cause for punishment

Last football season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee. In doing so, he controversially rocked the core of the sporting world in silent protest. He not only stirred the conversation of police brutality in America, he sparked a heated discussion about the place of politics and protest in sports.

Today, however, Kaepernick can’t seem to get back up. The former San Francisco 49er has yet to find himself a home since opting out of his contract in March. Despite reportedly drawing interest from as many as three NFL teams, Kaepernick is still fumbling around the league looking for work. Other than rocking the league’s best afro (and diligently working with charities), he hasn’t been doing much else.

So, why is it that nobody will touch this guy? Sure, he’s not the greatest quarterback in the world. He’s not Tom Brady. He may not even be Tony Romo. But he has talent, certainly enough talent to be a part of an NFL roster. I know that sounds crazy, but honestly, just consider what he actually has accomplished.

In just his first year as a starter in San Francisco, Kaepernick came within 3 points, 7 yards, and 1 power outage of actually winning the Super Bowl. Understandably, it’s easy to forget Super Bowl 47 ever existed. When the most exciting thing about your league’s biggest game is that the opposing head coaches happen to be brothers, it’s gonna be a bit of a bore.

Granted, Kaepernick’s career hasn’t quite remained on the contender track. Since 2014, although his performance hasn’t exactly fallen off, his ability to win apparently has. Both Kaep and the 49ers have bungled their way to three straight losing seasons. Although it seemed like his scrambling ability would fit perfectly into head coach Chip Kelly’s signature “Never Stop Never Stopping” offense, the pair simply couldn’t translate it into wins.

It’s not for a lack of skill that Kaepernick won’t be joining his teammates for training camp in July. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll recently said that Kaepernick should be a starting quarterback in the NFL, yet opted to sign journeyman Austin Davis after working them both out in the offseason.

At a glance, Carroll choosing Davis over Kaepernick doesn’t really make football sense. Kaepernick fits their system perfectly, and if what Carroll says is true, he ought to be starting somewhere in the league. You don’t have to know a lot about football to know that if your backup is as good as a starter, you’re in good position when your starter gets hurt. Clearly, Kaepernick’s public perception has doomed him when it comes to competing for a roster spot.

Although some speculate the league to be essentially blackballing him, Kaepernick’s inability to find a job is unquestionably related to his social activism. Teams understand his protest to be a distraction. Distractions, in the NFL, are considered toxic to the locker room. With a player like Kaepernick voicing his political opinions, or acting on them silently, the team might underperform. Or at least, that’s their theory.

But since when do politics equate to performance?

In 2014, LeBron James and his fellow NBA stars wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts before a game; a reference to the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police brutality. His performance did not falter, in fact, he once again returned to the NBA Finals that year, and returned the year after that to win it.

In 1974, Muhammad Ali returned after his 4-year ban from the boxing ring for protesting the Vietnam War draft. He defeated George Foreman to regain the World Heavyweight Championship. He went on to win it again in 1978 at the age of 36.

In other words, you can try to portray an athlete’s politics as cause for a poor performance, or even as reason to cut them from a team, but history proves otherwise. Politics, therefore, have nothing to do with performance. To punish an athlete for exercising their right to voice an opinion is to dampen the integrity of our basic liberties.

If any campus should understand the importance of protecting our First Amendment right to demonstrate, it’s American University.

Of course, AU has a history of protests, rallies, and demonstrations. It’s practically part of the campus culture. If we allow someone’s right to protest to become cause to ostracize them from their entire industry, we are setting a dangerous precedent.

Kaepernick’s protest may have polarized some people, but it was nonetheless his right to do so. To punish him for exercising that right is not only bad for our country’s most popular sport, it is contrary to its most basic of liberties.

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