It's been five years since Colin Kaepernick played in the NFL, and his former 49ers teammate Alex Smith continues to question why teams won't sign the quarterback.
"It still doesn't make sense," Smith said on 10 Questions With Kyle Brandt. "The run that he went on the last year we were together when we went to the Super Bowl ... [it] was so crazy to watch. Truly one of the historic runs in football to see what he was doing. He still holds records from that time period. Really special. It's crazy that fast forward to only a couple of years after that he's out of the league. You couldn't even grasp it. You couldn't understand it."
Smith and Kaepernick played together in San Francisco in 2011 and 2012, reaching the Super Bowl in the latter. Kaepernick became the 49ers' starter in 2012 and held that role for four more years. During the 2016 preseason, the quarterback began kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice and police brutality. Dozens of other NFL players ultimately joined Kaepernick, and the protests grew after President Donald Trump criticized those who chose to follow suit.
Kaepernick became a free agent in March 2017 after opting out of his 49ers contract and has not played in the NFL since. He and his former teammate Eric Reid eventually filed a grievance against the NFL, claiming that team owners colluded to keep them unsigned for protesting. Kaepernick and Reid settled their collusion grievance in February 2019.
While reflecting on Kaepernick's protests, Smith said "the country wasn't ready" for the important message the quarterback wanted to send.
"I think it's so tragic looking at it. I think he was ahead of his time, certainly, trying to call out social injustice, especially around police reform," Smith said of Kaepernick. "The country wasn't ready. Nobody was ready for it, and he's sitting there trying to tell everybody through a completely peaceful manner about some of the things going on in this country that had been going on for a long time.
"To see the backlash that happened, yeah, it hurts. The country wasn't ready for it and he suffered the repercussions with his job and then how brave he was. He lost his livelihood."
Kaepernick's protests returned to the spotlight last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody. Since the summer, many people have called for an NFL team to sign Kaepernick.