Keith Strudler: Trying Out For Quarterback
Perhaps the most valuable and challenging position to fill in all of professional team sports is the NFL quarterback. It’s central to literally every offensive play, and the position requires an ample mix of brawn, precision, and athletic intellect. NFL quarterbacks make more high-pressure decisions in a single drive then most employees make in a month. And pretty much any of those decisions, if made incorrectly, can be catastrophic, at least as much as anything in sports can be defined as such.
Colin Kaepernick would know all about that. The once and perhaps future star QB has endured more than his share of high pressured moments on the field of play. Although to be fair, the most pronounced happened before the game when some three years ago he kneeled during the national anthem. That annual campaign largely resulted in his exile from the League despite his fairly unique skill set, especially given the dearth of top shelf QBs and the constant need for capable back-ups. But for what most people assume political reasons, no NFL owner wanted to take a chance on Kaepernick when he became a free agent in 2017.
But now, in his third year out of football, that hiatus may be coming to an end. That likely depends on the tenuous relationship between the Colin and the League, one we assumed might improve after the NFL payed Kaepernick a significant amount of cash last year to drop his legal grievance against the League and its owners. That awkwardness behind them, the NFL tried to arrange a highly publicized showcase tryout last weekend so team scouts could see if they wanted him. It’s kind of like getting back together with your estranged spouse after they spent a couple years living on a tropical island with their yoga instructor. The idea was that Kap would show everyone how fit he is, or isn’t, and teams would decide whether or not it’s time to make an offer. And perhaps more importantly, it allowed the NFL to publicly show how hard they’re trying to build a bridge to a central figure in the national conversation around race and social justice. You might call it damage control. At least that was the idea.
Until it wasn’t. Thirty minutes before the tryout at the Atlanta Falcons training facility, Kaepernick moved it to a high school on the outskirts of town. He did so because he demanded media be present, which it wouldn’t be at the original location, and because he refused to sign a NFL injury waiver that he deemed unfair. That reignited a narrative that had largely died down over the past year or so, or perhaps competing narratives – either that the NFL continues to punish Kaepernick because he spoke freely, or that he’s just looking to boost his own celebrity and refuses to comply to workplace norms.
I won’t speak specifically to this binomial choice, but I will say this. In no uncertain terms, I do believe that Colin Kaepernick was mistreated by the NFL over his kneeling during the anthem. I think it’s fair that he won a fight to get paid a lot of money in a settlement, and I think it’s great he leveraged his platform towards commercial success with Nike. That, in a nutshell, is the American way. But what’s also very American is a massive business like the NFL doing everything it can to preserve market share by considering its brand and its product. So even if I might not have liked what the NFL did, I also understand why it happened and why they aren’t changing anytime soon, not as long as they want to remain the great American pastime. Which means that at some point, if Colin Kaepernick wants to play football in the NFL again, which he says he does, he is going to have to be a little more willing to play the game – both literally and figuratively.
Which means that even though the NFL may have built some unsavory regulations about Kap’s tryout, and even though it felt a little more PR stunt than combine, that’s probably not worth throwing it all away. And Kapernick’s move seems to reinforce the narrative that perhaps he enjoys the fight more than the game. So if Colin Kaepernick wanted to refuse the workout in the first place, I get that. I also get if he never wants to play again. But a high publicity game of chicken that probably ticked off anyone who wanted to attend? Not so much.
As it turns out, only eight of the original 25 teams made it to the high school facility, which means Colin Kaepernick is still a long shot to get back in the NFL. Which, to be honest, may be exactly how he wants it.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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