The situation in Minnesota right now offers a unique opportunity to deal with the symbols of racial injustice. As a small, but important step, the owners of the Minnesota Vikings, Zygi and Mark Wilf, can send a strong message by offering Colin Kaepernick a contract to play with the Vikings.
It will not solve the problem of blacks and police violence. But it will recognize the problem that Kaepernick powerfully raised, and perhaps show that, with courage, real progress can be made.
Lockhardt, a former Clinton administration press secretary, saw Kaepernick’s silent kneeling protests against police brutality and racial inequality lead to him losing his NFL career (Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman reported that several 49ers officials told Freeman that Kaepernick wasn’t resigned because of his political stance).
“No teams wanted to sign a player — even one as talented as Kaepernick — whom they saw as controversial, and, therefore, bad for business,” Lockhardt wrote. “The league sent owners and players around the country to speak on race relations, as the sociologist and human rights activist Harry Edwards said, ‘from protest to progress.’”
“Though Kaepernick didn’t get his job back, I thought we had all done a righteous job,” Lockhardt added. “I was wrong. I think the teams were wrong for not signing him. Watching what’s going on in Minnesota, I understand how badly wrong we were.”
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Kaepernick Adopted Kneeling From a Former Green Beret
The evolution of Kaepernick’s silent protest during the national anthem actually began not on his knee — but sitting on the bench before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers in 2016, prompting him to speak out when asked after the game.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Seattle Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer wrote an open letter in Army Times, detailing his relief work in Darfur, enlisting into the Army as a Green Beret and addressing Kaepernick’s decision to protest.
Here’s the closing of his letter:
“I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right. What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war. Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it…I look forward to the day you’re inspired to once again stand during our national anthem. I’ll be standing right there next to you.”
After Kaepernick read Boyer’s letter, he invited Boyer for a meeting and reached a conclusion.
“We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security,” Boyer told Bryant Gumbel during an interview for Real Sports, according to CBS News.
Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem, along with a few other NFL players, the rest of the season. Debate raged during the 2017 offseason as Kaepernick was not resigned. Then, Donald Trump sparked what would become a nationwide movement at all levels of sports, calling for the firing of all NFL players whom silent protested during the anthem.
Kaepernick has remained in the public eye during his hiatus from football with philanthropic endeavors — most recently starting a legal defense fund for protestors in Minneapolis.
NFL’s ‘Blackballing’ of Kaepernick
Kaepernick has worked out for many teams during his hiatus from football, and while there have been several cases calling for his signing, no team has.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio received a statement from NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, saying “Colin is a free agent. Clubs may sign him if they choose to do so.”
While Lockhardt echoed that the NFL encouraged coaches to sign Kaepernick, Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote that Commissioner Roger Goodell “facilitated the blackballing” of Kaepernick:
[Gooddell] has failed to persuade NFL owners to hire a reasonable number of black coaches and general managers in a sport filled with high-achieving black men. He possesses the same credibility as a new Twitter user with zero followers and a Russian handle.
Lockhart’s essay exposes all that Goodell and NFL owners have tried to obscure — that Kaepernick remained unsigned because NFL teams didn’t want to anger portions of their fan base or bring unwanted media attention to their locker rooms.
Souhan’s take is not unfounded. Lockhardt said that after Trump’s statement, the NFL launched a $100 million campaign that was used to highlight racial disparities, but Kaepernick remained unsigned not even a year after being released by the 49ers.
And while the Vikings just signed Iowa quarterback and late-round draft pick Nate Stanley, Souhan said that Kaepernick, 32, healthy and in remarkable shape, gives Minnesota a chance to win over the Vikings current backup quarterback, Sean Mannion.
Lockhardt’s message to the Vikings was one of equal opportunity and “would be a concrete step they can take to acknowledge that wrongs can be righted.”
“Bring him into camp, treat him like any of the other players given a chance to play the game they love,” Lockhardt said.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire