The former NFL quarterback says Colin Kaepernick needs to cut his hair.
The NFL general manager says Colin Kaepernick needs to express his desire to play pro football again.
The TV pundit says Colin Kaepernick “needs to actually talk.”
Here’s what the “experts” may not fully realize: Colin Kaepernick hewed to his own beliefs last year and he ended up with his integrity, his job and a whole new audience. Now, the more he speaks out, the more he inspires the people he’s addressing.
He wouldn’t have this connection if he just went along with the crowd. And now, as the 2017 season is set to begin, Colin Kaepernick has arguably become more empowered by the exact decisions the so-called experts say are why he’s not on an NFL roster.
The latest bit of advice comes from Michael Vick, who said on TV that Kaepernick should tame his Afro. “Go clean-cut,” he said on Fox. He elaborated, saying the former Super Bowl quarterback should “be presentable.”
“Image is everything,” Vick continued.
This comes after other similar bits of wisdom, like new 49ers GM John Lynch saying Kaepernick should express his desire to play, and TV host Jason Whitlock saying Kaepernick should talk more.
Vick later tweeted that he meant no “malice,” that he “only wishes the best for Colin” and that he is “looking forward to seeing him on the field again.”
But maybe on the field isn’t where Kaepernick needs to be.
Colin Kaepernick is actually in a rare place: he’s an athlete who has built himself a platform apart from his team or his stats. People listen to him now. His long hair is a statement in itself: he doesn’t have to hem anything now to be heard. He doesn’t have to be less black. He doesn’t have to answer to any corporation, any advertiser, any boss. Those who forecasted his decline into oblivion after he sat (and then knelt) during the national anthem last year were wrong; he did not vanish. He started for the 49ers, he earned high praise from teammates, he gave a lot of time and money to charity, he traveled to Africa, and he found a voice.
Will that voice become less relevant if he is forced into retirement? It’s possible. The world moves on quickly to the next topic and controversy. But it’s also possible that the end of his career could make him even more potent as a leader. To take a stand and lose a career because of it may not be the best outcome financially, but Kaepernick doesn’t seem to be about money. He doesn’t seem to put guardrails on his opinions because he’s afraid to lose a paycheck. That must be liberating. It would be even more liberating if he ended up with a place in the league anyway, as he did last year.
Kaepernick posted on Tuesday about Stockholm syndrome, which was very likely a clap back at Vick. The scorn of having “empathy” toward “captors” isn’t likely to ingratiate Kaepernick with NFL brass, but again, he doesn’t have to hesitate if he wants to be heard. As of this writing, his post has nearly 11,000 retweets.
Now, this is not an obit for Kaepernick’s career. He wants to play, he’s good enough, he still might land in the league and do well. But for right now, the expert wisdom is that he needs to fit in with somebody else’s culture, and to do that he needs to change his ways. That’s based on the assumption that playing in the NFL is necessarily worth toning it down.
It’s quite possible you despise his message, or his delivery of that message – because you feel it’s unpatriotic, anti-police or just plain annoying – but there’s a large audience of people who want to keep listening. Those are the people he’s connecting with – perhaps because of his time in NFL, and now perhaps because his time in the NFL may be ending.
And that’s just it: Colin Kaepernick is not defining himself by a jersey or a league. He is more known for the stances he has taken than any touchdown he’s thrown. And in light of the recent acquittal of the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile in Minnesota, his feelings on racial injustice are no less resonant now than they were a year ago. His opinions even have support in some unlikely places.
Colin Kaepernick does not have an NFL team at this time. Many say it’s because of the choices he’s made. That very well could be. But consider that a lot of people are talking about him, and he’s still speaking his mind, and he still may get that call. If he listened to all the experts, and then got picked up by some team, whose interests would that serve?
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