Colin Kaepernick, the man most famous for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the oppression of Black Americans, has been popping up everywhere recently. Five years after being blacklisted from football, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has embarked on a roving national workout tour to prove he’s still capable of slinging it in the NFL. “Who’s working?? I will pull up,” he tweeted on March 13.
Kaepernick quickly received a response—from Seahawks wideout Tyler Lockett. “Let’s do it bro!” Lockett responded. The next day, the two convened for some routes in Arizona. Lockett’s review: “Kap is ready!!”
Just over a week later, others in Lockett’s organization could have seen it for themselves. After stops in Texas and New Orleans, Kaepernick flew to Seattle for a workout at the University of Washington. It was an impromptu session, but reporters managed to make it there. Seahawks brass didn’t. “Does that guy deserve a second shot? I think he does, somewhere,” coach Pete Carroll said several days earlier. “I don’t know if it’s here.”
It’s not the first time Carroll and the Seahawks have dropped a line out of the NIMBY playbook on Kaepernick. Since the NFL turned its collective back on the established starting quarterback—a label that usually guarantees many years of job security as a backup—the Seahawks have made the most positive noises about signing him without, you know, actually signing him. In other words, the franchise has ultimately behaved just like everyone else.
But the organization can still do more than just virtue signal this off-season. While the moral argument for signing Kaepernick has long been obvious, the situation on the field in Seattle has never been more expedient for giving a rusty but talented quarterback a chance. With Russell Wilson off to Denver, there’s no excuse not to sign Kaepernick this time. “If anybody’s gonna do it, it’s them,” NBC Sports football chatterbox Mike Florio said recently.
There’s no doubt the franchise has flirted with the idea. In 2017, just after Kaepernick’s release from the 49ers, Seattle brought him in for a visit when others wouldn’t touch him. Carroll said he was starter-quality. Spike Lee posted a premature celebration. Yet the Seahawks, still committed to Wilson then, couldn’t come to an agreement with the quarterback.
The next year, Carroll said the organization was “still watching him,” but it canceled a meeting once Kaepernick reportedly declined to stop kneeling. In 2019, when the NFL organized a joint workout, the Seahawks planned to attend…then didn’t after Kaepernick’s camp called an audible on its location. “I’m disappointed,” Carroll said later.
To be fair, the coach isn’t the head of personnel; general manager John Schneider, who’s been quieter about Kaepernick, handles those decisions (Seahawks ownership would also certainly weigh in on this type of move). But the organization, which released a statement about systemic bias after George Floyd’s murder and supported a subsequent march in support of Black Lives Matter, is no less guilty of equivocating on the topic. “They want to placate the portion of their fan base that thinks Kaepernick got screwed,” Florio said, but “they don’t want to alienate the portion of their fan base that thinks Kaepernick got what he deserved.”
That fear shouldn’t be as pronounced today as it was a few years ago. Following Floyd’s murder, the NFL did a 180 on its protest stance, even if it didn’t explicitly mention a certain ex-49ers QB. “We were wrong,” commissioner Roger Goodell said. Players, including Seahawks, dropped to a knee. Did anyone notice a drop in the ranks of the 12s? Didn’t think so.
The criticism of Kaepernick has always been weak. When detractors say taking a knee disrespects the country’s flag and the military, they overlook that his method of protest was born from a conversation with a veteran. “Kneeling's never been in our history really seen as a disrespectful act,” retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer said.
Even those who disagree with that reflection on the past can’t deny this recent development: The Seahawks, as presently constructed, are no longer Super Bowl contenders. In the aftermath of the team’s decision to trade Wilson to Denver, the club’s quarterback competition is wide open. There is no icon to upstage, or unseat, anymore. For a team that’s already lost multiple star players this off-season, a distraction, as Kaepernick has oft been labeled, might be a welcome diversion.
There’s also the off chance that he’s good. It’s unlikely—offensive and defensive strategies have changed quite a bit during those five years he’s been away—but the 34-year-old is hardly ancient in a league where Tom Brady’s still spinning spirals. He certainly has more quality play on tape than Drew Lock.
And all he’s asking for is a chance to tryout. “We just want the opportunity to walk in the door and show them what I can do,” Kaepernick told reporters in Seattle. “And I think my talent, my skill set, will speak for itself.”
The Seahawks owe him more. Let him go through training camp and see if he can revive his career for all the moral and football considerations mentioned above. Even if the Seahawks might not rise in the standings anytime soon, the franchise can finally stake a claim to the high ground it’s long claimed but never realized. Then Carroll and company can talk all they want.