As a former professional football player, columnist Karim Grant is conflicted by Colin Kaepernick’s plight. Here, he shares why.

Throw a steak off the ark, to a pool full of sharks – he’ll take it.
Leave him in the wilderness with a sworn nemesis – he’ll make it.” – Kendrick Lamar, “XXX”

2017 has been a year like no other. A year in which we saw the true manifestation of North American democracy, as the 45th president of the United States began his first year in office, while former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained one of the most notably unemployed Americans.

In a lackluster season of NFL football, the most intriguing storyline didn’t happen on the field, rather on the sideline, as droves of players joined in protest to support Kaepernick. Some knelt, some raised their fists in defiance and others simply locked arms with other teammates.

Before the 2016 season, Kaepernick’s most noted accomplishment was his improbable run to the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, a game which was hard-fought, but ultimately lost to Ray Lewis’s Baltimore Ravens. Until then, little was known about this athletic QB who had hailed from the University of Nevada. The fateful August day in 2016 when he decided to take a seat during the national anthem changed that. His reason for sitting: to show solidarity for people who are oppressed in America, namely Black people and other people of colour, and to stand up against police brutality. His sit-in eventually became a kneeling protest as he received further guidance from a former U.S. serviceman that sitting would be viewed as disrespectful to those who have previously served the country in some capacity.

Though police brutality is nothing new, the disproportionate amount of young, Black men that were blatantly targeted, attacked and murdered in recent years gave clout to Kaepernick’s silent protest. It made riveting waves throughout the sports community and world at-large. Seemingly, because of his decision to bring light to an already burgeoning issue in the U.S., he has still yet to find work on any of the 32 NFL teams.

As a former player, I am conflicted by the issues surrounding Kaepernick’s plight.

As a former player, I am conflicted by the issues surrounding Kaepernick’s plight. I am fully aware and disgusted by the mistreatment that has been handed down by the men in blue across the border, as it has also reared its ugly head here in Canada. I am also fully aware of the privilege it is to don an NFL uniform. It was a childhood dream of mine to play professional football at the highest level, and I always abhorred those that frivolously threw their chances away. As a lower-tiered player in the hierarchy of the NFL and CFL, I carefully crossed my Ts and reverently dotted my Is as to not shed any negative light on myself. I did not want to find myself traded, cut or released from a league I had worked so desperately to get to.

It might be safe to say that Kaepernick’s best years of playing professional football were behind him, as his stats demonstrated a noted decline in his passer rating, which dipped to an all-time low in 2015 at a mere 78.5 according to ESPN. It did, however, climb to a higher level in 2016, but it must be noted that this 90.7 rating was accomplished on a non-playoff bound San Francisco team that failed to win more than half of its games. Regardless, his stats and résumé clearly indicate that someone of his calibre should be gainfully employed.

“Ain’t no Black Power when your baby killed by a coward
I can’t even keep the peace, don’t you fuck with one of ours
It be murder in the street, it be bodies in the hour.” – Kendrick Lamar, “XXX”

The heads of all the NFL’s 32 teams are white. A 2014 unofficial NFL census revealed that the league was approximately 68 per cent African-American and 28 per cent white, with the remaining comprising of Asian/Pacific Islanders, non-white Hispanics, and those preferring a mixed-race category. It is safe to say that many players operate on the idea of ‘not ruffling feathers of the hands that feed them.’ So, it is curious, to me, as a former player, for someone such as Kaepernick to take such a stand amid the denouement of his career. It is completely understood that he has been given a platform, upon which he felt compelled to let the world know about his denouncement of police brutality and oppression, however, it is, on my part, met with curiosity and slight skepticism.

The issue of police brutality, particularly experienced by young, Black men, has ultimately been lost or forgotten in the newly formed narrative around NFL protests.

My criticism isn’t aimed at the cause Kaepernick’s taken up; it is moreover because his plight has been lost in a rhetoric formed around a purported hatred of servicemen, which in fact it is not. The issue of police brutality, particularly experienced by young, Black men, has ultimately been lost or forgotten in the newly formed narrative around NFL protests.

For this reason, I believe that Kaepernick could have used his platform in a less injurious manner thereby not putting his employment in jeopardy. Even more curious than his protest during the anthem, is his eventual silence since he has been unemployed. With many of his counterparts, celebrities, rappers, actors and activists taking to social media to lend support to the cause, Kaepernick has remained somewhat silent while efforts are being made to force the NFL to re-instate his employment.

The issues of oppression and brutality are again lost in the proverbial sauce, and the focus has become his re-instatement on one side and his “disrespect” of servicemen on the other. Like most issues that cause uneasiness to the masses, the narrative is often altered to reflect another agenda and neglect the initial one.

I’m all for celebrities and athletes using their platforms to encourage social change and justice reform. What must be understood is that until the power is rendered to the players, they will continue to be controlled in some way, shape or form, while they are under contractual obligations. As an athlete, battles are to be chosen carefully, and timing is everything.

Perhaps Kaepernick, fully aware of his somewhat declining professional football career, knew that he had to reinvent himself in another way, or perhaps the cause he wanted light to be shone upon was just too much to ignore. The problem is, we will probably never know.

“Flesh-making, spirit-breaking, which one would you lessen?
The better part, the human heart, you love ’em or dissect ’em.
Happiness or flashiness? How do you serve the question?
See, in the perfect world, I would be perfect, world.” – Kendrick Lamar

This edition of The Grant Slant is dedicated to Malique Ellis, Ashton Dickson, Tyrone Tomlinson and all youth who have lost their lives to gun violence in 2017 and years past.