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Kaepernick’s free agency: Nothing to do with politics, everything to do with the distraction

Colin Kaepernick. (AP)

According to social media, if you saw NIKE’s new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, you were either enthralled in rage at the fact that he was front and center, or enthralled in rage at the people who were enthralled in rage that he was front and center.

The common perception of those in Kaepernick’s corner is that he was blackballed from the NFL for taking a stand against police brutality and inherent racism among NFL owners. The belief that his political views have kept the once Super Bowl-caliber Quarterback away from the league runs rampant among what seems like roughly half the country.

But what if it had nothing to do with specific politics, but politics in general? What if his politics brought about infinite media coverage, discussions unrelated to his profession and unwanted attention altogether? The fact of the matter is the distraction Kaepernick brought with him outweighed his talent on the football field.

Let’s get one thing straight, if you’re an avid football fan, you see for certain that while Kaepernick isn’t a good NFL QB, he’s better than numerous backups currently in the league. To pretend that he’s not better than Brian Hoyer, Geno Smith and Alex McGough would be naive. But you know who is also better than those three QBs? Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel, two QBs that cameras seemed to follow on and off the field.

Throughout history, we’ve seen players who could hold their own on the field get tossed aside for being overly-eccentric characters. While Terrell Owens put up more than capable stats his final year with Cincinnati, his attitude and antics outweighed his production and cost him a spot on a roster. It was the same deal with Chad Johnson (or Ochocinco, whichever your prefer). The truth with those two is the media was much more interested in their quotes than their play. It’s the same with Kaepernick, and coaches often try to avoid that.

If Kaepernick remaining a free agent had anything to do with being Black, and speaking out on alleged injustices, why are Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman still in the league? Both have been relatively vocal when it comes to societal issues and have published pieces in the Players’ Tribune. It’s because Michael Bennett has averaged over 7.5 sacks the past seven years and Richard Sherman has 32 career interceptions. Their play has outweighed the distractions they’ve brought to the field and they’ve proved their value as first-string players. Kaepernick hasn’t.

Coaches want their teams one-hundred percent focused on football. To take the distraction argument one step further, let’s look at another example – The tragic suicide by former-WSU Quarterback Tyler Hilinski in the offseason. Much has been made about mental health and CTE in the following months of this particular tragedy. While Head Coach Mike Leach has spoken on the issue and given glowing remarks of his former player, when asked recently about how his team will honor Tyler, he said they’ll do so by being the ‘best team they can be.’ Leach would prefer his athletes not have their mind on something other than football as they take the field this season.

While some may see the Kaepernick situation as institutional racism, it’s important to understand that it’s just part of a larger trend in sports. It’s not his political beliefs that leave him without an NFL job, it’s the cameras, microphones and attention he brings to any locker room he inhabits. Should he have bumped that completion percentage up a few points, then we might have a discussion on our hands. But since he didn’t, we’re left with the thought of what might have been, and an annoying, forced-upon discussion of racism and politics in sports, three things I wish would remain mutually exclusive.

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