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How Much Are Colin Kaepernick's Political Views Impacting His Unsigned Status?


We're going to take a few minutes now to talk about sports. Now, even if you're completely consumed by March Madness, you're probably keeping an eye on the NFL draft and free agency shuffle. So we thought we'd check in on what's happening with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

You might remember he got a lot of attention last year for choosing to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against police violence. Now he is a free agent and has not yet found a team. Now some critics like President Trump think those are his just desserts.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There was an article today as reported that NFL owners don't want to pick him up because they don't want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that?

MARTIN: That's just one reason some prominent sportswriters wonder whether Colin Kaepernick is being blacklisted for his political views, but some wonder whether maybe he's just not that good anymore. We wanted to hear more about this so we called Bucky Brooks. He's a media analyst for the NFL Network. He played pro ball himself for five seasons, and he was an NFL scout. And he was nice enough to step out of a high school football clinic in Atlanta to talk with us. Bucky Brooks, thanks so much for taking our call.

BUCKY BROOKS: Hey. Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: Now, I understand a lot of people are tweeting you about this. So how unusual is it for somebody of Colin Kaepernick's skill to remain a free agent at this point when other people who don't have his track record have been picked up? I mean, let's remember he took a team to the Super Bowl and an NFC Championship, so how unusual is this?

BROOKS: I mean, it's a little unusual based on the circumstances. And I mean, there are a lot of things at play when you look at Colin Kaepernick. I think for all the things that he's accomplished in his league - taking the team to a Super Bowl, taking a team back to an NFC championship a year later. He has been a bit inconsistent when it comes to how his performance on the field has been.

And so even though he had a poor 2015, he bounced back and had a pretty solid respectable 2016 and flashed the ability to still be a solid player in the league at the position. What we have right now is a situation where there aren't many starting jobs available and at his price tag, some people aren't willing to meet him half way and then you have the over-arching impact of his protest last year which could cause some concern about how he would be treated in the locker room and how he'd be treated by a fan base.

MARTIN: Now, you actually did a lot of reporting on this. I mean, you've talked to a lot of people from your kind of broad set of contacts. Did they say that the protests had something to do with his circumstances right now? What did they say about this?

BROOKS: You know, a lot of people just thought about the talent himself. A lot of people said, you know, it would take the right system for him to be able to be a solid starter in the league. Then I did have some other people allude to the fact that sometimes it may be a harder sale to bring him in when there's uncertainty about how he will be received based on the protest and other things.

No one would actually go on record and say he's not signed yet because of the protests, but it certainly plays into the decision-making process when you're trying to determine between multiple players at a position who would I rather bring in - someone who is devoid of controversy versus someone who may have some stuff that comes with him when it comes to dealing with the backlash and the PR nightmare that could ensue when you sign him?

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I wanted to ask you about that. A number of people have made the contrast between the NBA and the NFL on this whole question. I mean, is the NFL a place where an outspoken person whose views may conflict with those of the owners can find a place?

BROOKS: It's really a case-by-case basis. The more talented you are, the more leeway that you have in all aspects be it taking protests, be it maybe infractions that you may have had with the law or other things. So there is some truth to that when it comes to the NFL versus the NBA. A lot of the guys that made protests or kind of spoke out in a political vein, we're near the end of their career. So they feel emboldened to be able to do that because they were at a point where if they didn't get another opportunity to play, they were pretty at peace with what they had accomplished in their respective league.

I do believe that if someone is going to take a stand, you still can take that stand and you can do it in a manner where you don't necessarily put the team at risk or subject them to a lot of negative backlash. It just depends on your individual standing in the league and how clear and articulate you are in communicating your message and why you're protesting. And are you willing to deal with some of the ramifications that come with that?

MARTIN: That's Buckey Brooks. He's a sportswriter and media analyst for the NFL Network, a former pro player himself and a former scout. He was kind enough to join us from Atlanta. Bucky Brooks, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BROOKS: Hey. Thanks so much for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered,where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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