Colin Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL for three years, and one former NFL executive has addressed how the former 49ers quarterback's decision to kneel to protest police brutality impacted his football career.
In a column for CNN, Joe Lockhart, the former NFL vice president of communications from 2016-18, discussed how Kaepernick's silent protests shook team owners and started a social justice conversation around the league. However, Lockhart also admitted what no one at the NFL has ever explicitly stated about the situation:
"No teams wanted to sign a player—even one as talented as Kaepernick—whom they saw as controversial, and, therefore, bad for business."
Kaepernick's protests have returned to the national spotlight after George Floyd, a black man, died Monday evening while being violently apprehended by Minneapolis police. Floyd's death has sparked many reactions from athletes, and protests have broken out in multiple cities across the nation.
Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 preseason. Dozens of other NFL players ultimately joined him, and the protests grew during the 2017 season after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who chose to follow suit. Trump said owners should "fire" NFL players who protest the anthem and referred to them as "son[s] of b------." Players responded by protesting en masse.
Kaepernick was not playing during the 2017 season and, according to Lockhart, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL executives tried to persuade teams to sign the QB. Lockhart said owners continued to worry about the financial impact, and one team executive told him that the club projected losing 20% of its season ticket holders if it brought on Kaepernick.
"That was a business risk no team was willing to take, whether the owner was a Trump supporter or a bleeding-heart liberal (yes, those do exist). As bad of an image problem it presented for the league and the game, no owner was willing to put the business at risk over this issue," said Lockhart, now a CNN legal analyst.
Lockhart went on to describe how he tried to justify Kaepernick's unemployment by acknowledging the millions of dollars spent by the NFL to address racial division in the nation. However, he realized his perspective was wrong.
"Colin Kaepernick became the symbol of black men being treated differently than white men in America," Lockhart said. "That symbol of racial injustice was reinforced every day that Colin sat on the outside of the football world. It may have seemed like a good business decision for the clubs to not sign him, and it certainly wasn't illegal, but it was wrong."
Lockhart ended his column by calling for change and suggesting the Vikings, who are located in the center of the controversy in Minnesota—offer Kaepernick a contract.