Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has not played a snap in the NFL since 2016, will get a workout in Atlanta on Saturday in front of NFL scouts. Unsurprisingly, that fact, in a matter of days, has become extremely controversial.
When Kaepernick first tweeted about the news on Tuesday, he sounded optimistic, saying that the NFL reached out to his own representatives, and that, “I’ve been in shape and ready for this for 3 years, can’t wait to see head coaches and GMs on Saturday.” In the days since, more details have emerged, like the fact that the league arranged the workout, not a specific team, and that the league has still not told Kaepernick what player he will be passing to during the workout. That has led many fans and media pundits to declare the entire thing a publicity stunt by the NFL. Sports Illustrated writes that the workout is “nothing but an NFL PR move.” The San Francisco Chronicle calls it “bizarre.” Some commentators have even suggested Kaepernick should not participate. The workout is open to representatives from all 32 teams; as of Thursday, 11 teams had committed to sending a representative.
The veteran CBS NFL broadcaster James Brown, whom fans have been used to seeing in the studio during halftime of games for 25 years, is not so sure.
“Some people cynically were saying it’s a P.R. move,” Brown told Yahoo Finance in an exclusive interview on Thursday at the Paley International Council Summit in New York. “How in the world, and what P.R. person would recommend this move after Week 10, when things are trending so well for the league, to deal with a controversial issue like that? That person ought to be fired if that’s the case. There’s some real substance there.”
Another point that Brown and others have made is that even if the details surrounding the workout are fishy, it’s still a real chance for Kaepernick to prove he can still play in front of NFL scouts.
“I think people are going to be surprised, and there are going to be more team representatives there than folks are giving credit,” Brown says. “All of this came about because there were a number of teams that were petitioning the league office saying, ‘Hey, what about his football worthiness, can we give him a tryout?’”
Kaepernick famously began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem in the 2016 preseason. Even after he was no longer playing, numerous players followed suit, igniting a two-year-long political controversy in which President Trump repeatedly weighed in on Twitter, slamming the NFL for allowing it.
Nike also courted controversy when it made Kaepernick the face of a new ad campaign last year.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, looking back on the protests and their lasting impact on the league, said at this year’s Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit, “Those were human causes that [the players] brought a lot of attention to. And since then, the league has done a lot. We’d need a special program with you to go through all the stuff. And the players have done a lot. That was the time for talk and symbolism; since then, it’s been time for action. And there’s been a lot of action. Local communities, prison reform, a lot of those things that impact not only minorities but other people.”
If an NFL team moves to sign Kaepernick after his workout Saturday, it would likely bring political controversy back to the league, and almost certainly stoke Trump’s ire. But it would also begin a new chapter in the controversial quarterback’s story.