Is Colin Kaepernick a radical statesman or a Nike salesman?

Ron Borges

Colin Kaepernick made clear long ago what he knelt for. What we don’t quite know is what he stands for.

After he and former 49ers’ teammate Eric Reid settled their collusion suit against the NFL this week we have heard nothing from Kaepernick except his feelings about the release of his latest $150 Nike jersey. Is this guy a statesman or a salesman?

Ever since Kaepernick started the take-a-knee movement in the NFL, his messaging has always been confusing and somewhat muddled. Clearly he began a conversation about social justice and police brutality toward minorities but sadly that’s a debate that has gone on for decades with at best limited change having been enacted.

Many hoped Kaepernick would lead a movement for change from the bully pulpit offered to NFL stars but by the time he ascended it he was no longer an NFL star. Still, initially his silent protest and occasional comments led to a rising number of players following suit, after which some owners and the President of the United States lost their minds. In the latter’s case, that doesn’t take much.

The following March, Kaepernick opted out of his contract and hasn’t played a down sense. He also hasn’t been seen or heard of much, with the exception of some bold Nike commercials that spoke louder than he did. As a leader he wasn’t exactly Muhammad Ali or Jim Brown, as an organizer he was no Gandhi or Martin Luther King and as a martyr he certainly wasn’t Curt Flood.

So what is he?

Frankly, we have no idea and neither does anyone else.

Kaepernick’s silent settlement of his lawsuit included agreeing to a gag order so no one has a clue what, exactly, he and Reid settled for. Reid just signed a new $22 million contract with the Carolina Panthers a few days before that settlement was finalized so some assumed that would be the proper landing spot for Kaepernick as well, assuming part of the deal is he gets another shot at going back to work. Reid seemed less assured.

"Knowing what I know, my hope tank is on E," Reid said. "This is a leverage game, so we'll see what happens moving forward."

In a matter of a week it was leaked that Kaepernick allegedly demanded $20 million to play in the new Alliance of America Football start-up league and then he settled with the NFL for we know not what. By week’s end, Nike had announced the release of its latest Kaepernick Icon Jersey. Icon?

The definition of icon is as follows: “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.’’

I think we can eliminate the need for veneration, unless you’re a 49ers fan who remembers the Kaepernick who went 25-14 as a starter before slipping to 3-16 in his final two years. To be fair, those latter years he was stuck with a cast of characters mostly unworthy of NFL employment, but his own play slipped badly enough that veneration no longer seemed quite appropriate.

If Kaepernick is to be seen as a symbol the question is of what? Silent protester who makes silent settlements? Burned out athlete who doesn’t appear to want to play anymore but wants to keep getting paid? Or simply a symbol of sales genius?

Nike, for one, seems to have a handle on what Kaepernick represents, which is to say sales opportunities. Let’s call him then a salesman with a social conscience but one that does have its price, which in this case is $150 a jersey.

“The Kaepernick Icon Jersey is a celebration of those who seek truth in their communities and those who remain true to themselves," Nike wrote on its website when announcing a new buying opportunity. Kaepernick announced the jersey's release on Twitter, writing, "For those true to themselves on and off the field. Proudly, unapologetically and against all odds. This is only the beginning."

“We believe Colin Kaepernick is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” a Nike spokesperson told ESPN’s website, “The Undefeated. “The jersey marks Nike’s continued product collaboration with Colin.”

So what is Colin Kaepernick? Pitch man or protestor? Fanatic or fraud? Martyr or marionette? Con man or cause celebre? Truth be told nobody knows and maybe that’s the saddest thing about this entire episode. After three years of protests, grass stained pants and two years of banishment from the NFL, nobody really knows what Colin Kaepernick stands for.

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brian wolf
brian wolf

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