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With every question posed, Pete Carroll seemed to squirm a little more.
His responses were clipped. His explanations void of specifics. His face displaying a blend of disinterest and discomfort.
The Seahawks head coach looked uncomfortable with each inquiry about Colin Kaepernick, and specifically, the team’s interest in seeing the former 49ers quarterback in Atlanta. But what Carroll managed to tell reporters was indeed telling.
He voiced how “disappointed” he was that the organization couldn’t follow through on its plan to attend Kaepernick’s NFL workout last week, and he made sure to let everyone know that he had, in fact, been intrigued by the prospect of seeing Kaepernick.
... You know, had the venue not been changed at the last minute.
“We had planned to be at that workout,” Carroll said earlier this week. “It got changed around and we couldn’t hang with it, so … we missed it. We were real curious.”
It was just more needless theater in a week filled with poor performances and feigned interest in a quarterback who, not only hasn’t suited up since the 2016 season, but whose status as a symbol of a social justice movement has always posed a threat to the NFL’s bottom line. And Carroll’s comments only further illustrated the ongoing hypocrisy — and repeated miscalculations — of the league.
The dust has finally settled on the chaotically planned, NFL-sanctioned tryout, and yet it feels as though we are no closer to seeing Kaepernick on an NFL field. But perhaps we are close to a resolution.
If this past weekend showed us anything, it’s that the distrust between The Shield and its most famously exiled player is as thick as ever. And the one thing NFL teams were hoping to see last Saturday is the one thing that never seemed possible: There is no separating Kaepernick the player and Kaepernick the activist now.
Conversations with people in league circles yield similar refrains: The tryout was a test …The NFL wanted Kaepernick to show he can be about only business, not himself. … If he really wanted a job, he’d adhere to the requests of his future employer. … I’m not convinced he wants to play. … People think he wants only attention.
As some personnel executives put it this week: Kaepernick is a “non-story” inside their building. “No one is even talking about” him or his workout, they said.
But if Kaepernick was bad for business three years ago, why the sudden interest in coordinating a tryout for a player whose very presence threatened the NFL’s livelihood?
Why eight months after reaching a settlement in the collusion case brought forth by the same individual?
Why a Saturday?
The NFL is all about money. It’s about optics. And it’s about damage control.
Cue the arrival of Jay-Z.
In aligning with the rapper/business mogul, the NFL now has a prominent person of color to help lure back fans who fled in the wake of the league’s unfair treatment of Kaepernick. The optics were perfect as far as the NFL could tell. Jay-Z’s involvement in selecting musical artists for the Super Bowl and with their social justice partnership was supposed to be further proof that the NFL cared about issues affecting people of color.
…You know, the same issues Kaepernick was drawing attention to while kneeling during the anthem.
As we now have learned, it was Jay-Z who pushed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to extend a so-called olive branch to the Kap camp, in the form of this poorly planned, never-fully-agreed-upon tryout at the Falcons facility. And the moment Kaepernick usurped control over the venue and the media’s access to the event, suddenly several teams were no longer so “curious” to see him.
Even if Kaepernick is the self-absorbed, martyrdom-seeking activist some profess him to be, that doesn’t absolve the NFL of blame for its past treatment of him. Nor does it offset its decision to open Pandora’s Box by arranging a tryout for a player so many in the league are convinced doesn’t actually want to play football.
Fear is what kept Kaepernick out of the NFL for so long.
The NFL’s fear of upsetting football fans.
The NFL’s fear of losing money.
The NFL’s fear of President Donald Trump’s irrational wrath.
And so, the league, its owners and Goodell, reasoned that Kaepernick wasn’t talented enough to offset the chaos his locker-room presence would cause.
If the distraction was too much then, why the sudden interest now? Because the furor over social justice protests has died down enough that the NFL now sees an opportunity to tap back into a market it had been ignoring: Those fans who ditched the game to stand in solidarity with Kaepernick.
For it all to work, the now-32-year-old quarterback had to play by the NFL’s rules. He had to agree to forgo kneeling during the anthem. He had to demonstrate that he can seamlessly fit into a locker room and be one of 53. And he had to prove he wouldn’t be a distraction — a rather nebulous and seemingly unrealistic request for the face of an entire movement.
Yet another miscalculation by the league.
Let’s be clear: This has never been about Kaepernick’s arm strength or his talent.
At the heart of this ongoing war of wills is the league’s bottom line.
Money (and the loss of it) is what motivates the NFL to act.
After three years of viewing Kaepernick as a threat, Jay-Z’s influence was enough to strong-arm Goodell into organizing a tryout and manufacture interest among teams.
But here’s how interested those teams really were: When the venue was changed last-minute, the number of scouts dwindled from 25 to just eight.
“The timeframe when we got the heads-up, we couldn’t get it pulled together. We wanted to,” said Carroll, who brought Kaepernick in for a free-agent visit before the start of the 2017 season, but never worked him out. At the time, Carroll said the organization didn’t sign him because “we have a starter [Russell Wilson]. But [Kaepernick’s] a starter in this league, and I can’t imagine somebody won’t give him a chance to play.”
All these years later, Kaepernick is still out of a job and his quest to return to the NFL appears headed toward a foregone and regrettable conclusion. Why? Neither side trusts the intentions of the other and the power struggle that exists between him and the NFL hasn't subsided.
There are even NFL players who are sick of discussing the ongoing saga. They, like many fans, want to see some kind of resolution, whether it be in the form of Kaepernick moving on from the NFL or a team finally signing him. But any one of those 25 teams that planned to attend last week’s tryout could have brought in Kaepernick in the spring or during training camp.
So how real was their interest, even before the ensuing drama of a location change?
All of the window dressing, by all of those involved, could have been avoided. And now that the dust has settled on his highly publicized tryout, we’re left with the same feeling we had long before Saturday's sideshow: We likely won’t see Kaepernick on an NFL field again.
And it's a shame.
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