A closer look at the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick P.R. play

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

If it was intentional, it was brilliant. If it was inadvertent, it was the equivalent of discovering plutonium by accident.

Regardless, the NFL’s multi-step P.R. play regarding free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick supplied those who don’t like him and/or his anthem protests with an endless stream of talking points that continue to provide a useful basis for quickly shifting the goalposts whenever anyone begins to make progress while arguing the objective unfairness of Kaepernick’s lingering unemployment.

By now, everyone knows the truth: Kaepernick isn’t employed not because of his skills, but because of his politics. More specifically, because he decided to bring attention to police brutality directed at African-Americans and people of color by not standing during the national anthem, the NFL regards him as “bad for business,” regardless of whether the NFL’s current business outlook currently is bad. (Earlier this month, Falcons owner Arthur Blank justified the Matt Ryan contract in part by explaining that “[l]eague revenues are up, club revenues are up.”

But the process didn’t start with the truth. The process began with unnamed sources pushing false narratives to the media aimed at justifying his unemployment for football reasons. And the anti-Kaepernick crowd still continues to indiscriminately rattle off one of more of these long-debunked reasons even now, months after the NFL finally conceded that the all-about-football decision was only about non-football considerations.

It started with the attack against Kaepernick for “opting out” of his contract, a red herring that was quickly debunked by 49ers G.M. John Lynch, who said on PFT Live that Kaepernick would have been cut if he hadn’t chosen to rip up his deal and become a free agent in March 2017. It continued with someone pushing to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com the notion that Kaepernick wanted a salary in the range of $9 million to $10 million per year and a chance to compete for a starting job. But no one actually knew what Kaepernick wanted at the time, because the conversation hadn’t progressed to the point where anyone had asked Kaepernick or his agents what he wanted at the time.

And there they were, the first two football-related knocks on Kaepernick — he “opted out” of a sure thing with the 49ers, and he wants too much from everyone else.

Then came concerns about his diet. “He’s not eating meat!” the pearl-clutching personnel execs privately said, while also admiring Tom Brady‘s avocado ice cream habit.

Next, it was the notion that some within the 49ers organization believe Kaepernick is more committed to social justice work than playing football. That was quickly refuted, but that didn’t matter. The anti-Kaepernick crowd had another talking point that would endure.

Eventually, as more and more quarterbacks were getting jobs — and as more and more fans and media members were saying, “Yo, what the f–k?” — media members started pushing overt baloney regarding the actual football evaluations of Kaepernick’s abilities.

“The No. 1 reason Colin Kaepernick is unsigned: He’s not considered a starting-caliber player by any NFL evaluator anymore. Work from there,” Albert Breer of SI.com tweeted on May 9, 2017.

It was a specious claim from the get go. How does anyone know what every NFL evaluator thinks?

But truth doesn’t matter. What matters is loading up those who oppose Kaepernick with ammunition for countering arguments rooted in facts. Facts like Monday morning’s PFT item regarding the evidence being harvested in Kaepernick’s collusion grievance. Evidence which shows that multiple teams viewed Kaepernick as a starter in 2017 and still regard him that way today.

By late July, when the Ravens needed a quarterback and considered (for a moment) the possibility of signing Kaepernick, the truth finally surfaced. It’s not all about football. In fact, it’s about anything but football.

That’s what the story should have been from the start. The decision to shell-game the truth, however, has resonated for more than 14 months, allowing fans and media who simply don’t like Kaepernick for what he did and/or what he believes to continue to cite the various football reasons that have uniformly and consistently been exposed as false.

None of this means that the NFL colluded when keeping Kaepernick unemployed. But what better way to throw dirt on the collusion trail than to try to twist and distort the real reasons for the universal (and potentially coordinated) decision to distance the league from a player whom multiple evaluators did indeed regard as a starting-caliber player?

Regardless of whether collusion is proven, and despite the reality that Kaepernick would be employed right now but for his protests, alternative facts have become a very real and viable basis for shouting down anyone who looks at the situation, considers the facts, and says, “Yeah, he’s getting screwed.” However that strategy came to be, the NFL should bottle it and sell it to Washington, D.C.

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