Colin Kaepernick last took a snap in the NFL on Jan. 1, 2017 with the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick threw for 215 yards and a touchdown in the game, but the 49ers lost, 25-23, to the Seattle Seahawks.
He hasn't played a down of football since -- but that doesn't mean Kaepernick has been absent from the NFL. If anything, he's loomed over the league.
Two months after his last game with the 49ers, Kaepernick opted out of his contract. He went unsigned but became an even bigger star playing the part of martyr. Every time a starting quarterback is injured, Kaepernick's name is mentioned. Any discussion on NFL protests against racial injustice inevitably goes back to Kaepernick. And when Nike needed a face for its new campaign, it turned to the unemployed quarterback.
National Anthem Protests
The controversy around Kaepernick began in the third preseason game of the 2016 season when he was spotted sitting on the bench while the national anthem played. He later stated he wasn’t going to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” in a clear reference to several contemporary controversial police shootings involving African-Americans.
From then on, Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem, through the rest of the preseason and into the 2016 season. His decision to take a knee to protest perceived racial injustice across the nation sparked parallel protests in the league with several other players deciding to take a knee, sit on the bench or raise a fist during the national anthem.
The movement instantly carved out a high profile, but it became a lightning rod when it reached the White House, with President Trump railing against players who didn't stand for the anthem.
Though Kaepernick is no longer on the sidelines, the protest he started continues.
Through the 15th week of the 2018 season, Sports Illustrated reported Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills kneeled during the national anthem and Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Duane Brown and defensive ends Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson remained in the locker room.
Kaepernick vs. the NFL
Kaepernick became a free agent in March 2017 when he opted out of his contract with the 49ers. Though he’s reportedly drawn interest from several teams around the league, he remains unsigned and believes it is because NFL owners are colluding to keep him out of the league over his decision to kneel during the national anthem.
He filed a grievance against the NFL in November 2017 and, though the league asked to dismiss the case, an arbitrator denied the request. The ruling meant there was sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.
Some of the evidence in Kaepernick’s favor comes from pressure Trump put on NFL owners over the national anthem controversy, The Wall Street Journal reported in May. Trump reportedly told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that he couldn’t “win this one” and that the issue was “strong” for him. The conversations were revealed in depositions for Kaepernick’s case.
Kaepernick has had reported interest from the Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins. But there always seemed to be a hiccup before Kaepernick could put on pads to try out for the team or before contract terms were drawn up.
Broncos general manager John Elway said in August that Kaepernick had a chance to be with the Broncos, but “he didn’t take it.” The Broncos reportedly tried to trade for Kaepernick after Peyton Manning retired from the team before the 2016 season, but the quarterback didn’t want to take a pay cut.
In September 2017, former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis told Showtime's "Inside The NFL" the team was talking about giving Kaepernick an “opportunity” to play in place of injured starter Joe Flacco. However, the meeting between Kaepernick and team owner Steve Bisciotti never happened because Kaepernick’s girlfriend Nessa Diab posted a photo likening Bisciotti and Lewis to “Django Unchained” characters, Lewis said.
In April 2018, Kaepernick was scheduled to work out with the Seattle Seahawks – his first workout since becoming a free agent. However, USA Today reported the tryout was nixed because Kaepernick refused to answer whether he planned to kneel during the national anthem during the upcoming season. Kaepernick reportedly told the team he was focused on playing football and wasn’t going to agree to preconditions, which is where things began to fall apart.
Kaepernick’s name was brought up again as recently as this month, when the Washington Redskins – in the thick of a playoff hunt – lost both Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to leg injuries. Redskins coach Jay Gruden said the team discussed bringing in Kaepernick but opted against it, instead going with Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson.
“Had this been Week 1, maybe he would probably be a greater possibility but since it's week 13 with four games to go, in order to really utilize somebody like Colin Kaepernick's skillset, you're talking about a whole new group of formations and run concepts and all that good stuff,” Gruden told reporters on Dec. 4. “It's just very difficult.”
Support for Kaepernick
Though he remains unsigned by a professional football team, Kaepernick managed to get an endorsement deal with Nike and became the face of the company’s newest “Just Do It” campaign.
Nike announced the move in September. Kaepernick was part of the campaign alongside New York Giants superstar Odell Beckham Jr. and tennis great Serena Williams.
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt,” tweeted Kaepernick, who had been a part of Nike since 2011. Though the move drew scrutiny from the NFL and caused an immediate dip in Nike’s stock prices, the quarterback received support from NFL players and other strange bedfellows.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills were among the players to support Nike’s decision to launch the campaign with Kaepernick. Ex-CIA Director John Brennan and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also joined a strangely diverse chorus of support for Kaepernick.
While Nike threw its support behind Kaepernick before the season, the quarterback’s former teammate, Eric Reid, was vouching for him during the season. Reid joined Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem and left the 49ers after the 2017 season. Reid then went unsigned until Sept. 27, when the Carolina Panthers inked him to a one-year contract.
Reid kneeled during the national anthem before his first game with the Panthers. He called his return to the gridiron and the narrow victory over the New York Giants that day in October “bittersweet” because Kaepernick wasn’t playing in the league, according to The Undefeated.
“It’s bittersweet,” the defensive back said. “I won the game, but Colin is at home with my kids. He should be playing.”
Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins also showed his support for Kaepernick in December by wearing a jersey with the quarterback's old number on the chest and back along with #IMWITHKAP scrawled across the chest.
Before the Redskins played the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 16, the Prince George County, Md., school board called on Washington to give Kaepernick a chance to play, The Washington Post reported.
A letter co-signed by seven board members said Kaepernick's talent should merit him another chance to play in the league, but they also noted Kaepernick's presence would give hope and "inspiration" to “African American boys around America and especially here in the D.C. area."
“We believe that giving Kaepernick an opportunity will send the right message to our students and community members, who see him as someone who cares about issues affecting our community. If signed, we look forward to working with him, and the Washington organization to create the types of programming and spaces for our young people to discuss and debate the issues affecting them,” the letter read.
Super Bowl Controversy
Kaepernick’s unemployment has even been a source of controversy ahead of the Super Bowl. With Maroon 5 set to play the halftime show, the league has reportedly had trouble finding acts to play along with the band -- with many turning down the prime slot due to Kaepernick's unemployment.
“No one wants to associate themselves with the NFL in light of its response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality,” a source told US Weekly.
Maroon 5 reportedly tried to get rap sensation Cardi B to play alongside them, among others, but couldn’t reel her in.
Rihanna also reportedly turned down an offer to play during the Super Bowl and comedian Amy Schumer said she wouldn’t appear in Super Bowl ads.
Does Kaepernick Want to Play Again?
If a team did offer Kaepernick a contract, would he even want to play again?
Kaepernick’s involvement in social justice activism could be one of the reasons why he wouldn’t return to the field. Kaepernick’s advocacy was profiled in a 2017 Sports Illustrated profile, including him helping with the 100 Suits for 100 Men charity, donating $1 million as part of his million-dollar pledge and donating thousands of dollars to several clinics.
According to Business Insider, as of September 2018, he had donated 2 percent of his $43 million in football earnings to social justice charities.
While Kaepernick was trying to latch on to a new deal in 2017, The Daily Caller, citing a source, reported Kaepernick turned down at least one contract offer in hopes he could stir up a frenzy that would eventually lead to a more lucrative offer. The report surfaced around the time of the Ravens reported interest.
Despite his philanthropic efforts and his reported hopes to get a big contract, multiple reports and friends of Kaepernick have been adamant about the quarterback’s intentions to play again.
A video surfaced in March showing Kaepernick tossing the ball on a Houston field. Another video also showed him in the weight room, appearing to be training for the upcoming season in case he got the call. He had reportedly been working with trainer Josh Hidalgo since January 2017, according to the Monday Morning Quarterback.
Kaepernick’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, told TMZ in an interview in September that two teams had been interested in his client. Geragos dropped vague hints those teams might have been the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, but no offer ever reportedly materialized.
Kenny Stills told reporters in September that Kaepernick still has the desire to play and was ready, according to ESPN.
“I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'Just came from a workout. I'm ready to go,” Stills said. “He wants to play. He's good enough to play. He deserves to play. I'm not sure why a team hasn't signed him yet.”
A source also reiterated the notion that Kaepernick wanted to play to Pro Football Talk in November.
There appears no chance, however, the Redskins will finally growing desperate enough to give him a chance, considering their quarterback troubles this season. Team president Bruce Allen reportedly made clear Kaepernick will never be signed by Washington as long as he's with the team.
As for Kaepernick, he hasn’t spoken publicly on the issue since November 2017.
He told then-New York Daily News columnist Shaun King about his desire to play: “Yes. I've never stopped. I'm ready right now. Working out daily."