CARSON, Calif. — It’s time for NFL owners to go beyond issuing statements and to make a statement: bring back quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
On Sunday, from an undisclosed location, Kaepernick retweeted on his Twitter account several images of NFL players wearing T-shirts that read #IMWITHKAP. NFL owners need to show they are as well.
They finally can dispel theories that Kaepernick has been blackballed for refusing to stand for the national anthem last season, or, fearing a blacklash from fans, that they simply lack the courage to give him another chance.
In May 2016, speaking at a campaign rally in Kentucky, President Trump said he was reading an article about NFL owners’ fears about signing Kaepernick and he added, “They don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that?”
They got more than tweets the past three days. Trump called on the owners to fire or suspend players who protest during the national anthem. Typically averse to controversy, the owners were all but forced to take a stand.
And they took the right one by issuing statements opposing President Trump’s controversial comments. In the process, many owners suggested, they support the players’ right to protest social injustice and, by extension, that amounts to support for Kaepernick.
Make no mistake about the Kaepernick’s impact on the remarkable events Sunday, when an unprecedented number of players across the league staged protests. During pregame warmups many wore #IMWITHKAP T-Shirts
Adding Kaepernick to an NFL roster is the next step, and the opportunity is as inevitable as the next injury. Quarterback is one of the most vulnerable positions in sports, and soon enough a team will need a backup. Can that team possibly go wrong by signing a quarterback who led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012?
Kaepernick, 29, became a free agent when he opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers after last season. And it was a noteworthy season. While playing for an awful team, he had a quarterback rating of 90.7 — 17th among starters and ahead of the likes of Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.
He threw for 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions, and the stats are clear: This is a man who deserves to be on an NFL roster.
It’s impossible to remove politics from the situation. But teams and Trump might be surprised by what they discover if they checked the sentiment among fans who showed up for Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs Sunday.
Anthony Santa Cruz showed up wearing a No. 7 Kaepernick jersey and said the verbal jabs he’d drawn were all good-natured.
“Everybody’s showing me love,’’ he said, adding that he’d seen a couple of other fans wearing Kaepernick jerseys, which became top sellers after the quarterback began his protests during the 2016 preseason.
Not everybody was of the same mind.
Brad Jones, who said he served in the Air Force, voted for Trump and is a Chiefs fan, sat during pregame tailgating next to a big American flag and his wife, who said, “We are a true red, white and blue family.’’
Of Kaepernick, Jones said, “That dude was raised by white parents. What’s his gripe? He got all the privileges in the world.’’
Of Trump, Jones said, “It’s not his place (to comment on the player protests). Someone needs to take his phone for him.’’
Jones expressed no interest in boycotting games if the player protests continue.
Gavin Neilson attached an American flag to his tailgate tent.
“I always bring it, but it’s more important than ever,’’ he said. “In my opinion, people have the right to protest. At the same time, I have the right to judge their protest, and I don’t support it.
“But I don’t think Trump should have interjected his opinion. I think it adds fuel to the fire.’’
That fire, which has raged around Kaepernick, will die down soon after he joins a roster. During the season, there were multiple news media reports that he would no longer protest the anthem and, by donating almost $1 million to organizations supporting social justice, has proved his efforts were sincere.
So, apparently, is his hope to resume his career.
Earlier this month, Shaun King of the Fair Punishment Project said he asked Kaepernick if he still wanted to play and that Kaepernick responded, “Yes. I’ve never stopped. I’m ready right now.’’
Now’s the time, NFL.