Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers is now saying what others are afraid to say: Colin Kaepernick is being punished for protesting.
In a lengthy interview with ESPN, Rodgers — the 33-year-old Super Bowl MVP and two-time league MVP — spoke in detail about both former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his protest, along with his views on white privilege and his ongoing work to empathize with and better understand racial tensions in America.
“I think [Kaepernick] should be on a roster right now,” Rodgers told ESPN. “I think because of his protests, he’s not.”
“I’m gonna stand because that’s the way I feel about the flag — but I’m also 100 percent supportive of my teammates or any fellow players who are choosing not to,” Rodgers continued. “They have a battle for racial equality. That’s what they’re trying to get a conversation started around.”
Some NFL higher-ups — like an unnamed “NFL team executive” who spoke to the LA Times about Kaepernick — argue that the reason Kaepernick, who led his team to the Super Bowl one year and an NFC Championship appearance the next, hasn’t been signed is ostensibly due to his athletic ability.
“Does he really love ball? Does he really work at it? I don’t know that. He’s not a natural type of pocket passer. He throws a very hard ball to catch. He throws a lot of fastballs, not a lot of touch,” the anonymous executive told the Times. “He was good when they had a good offensive line to run the ball like crazy, and the best defense in the league.”
However, that reason doesn’t jibe with many NFL fans and analysts who argue that Kaepernick — who threw 2,241 yards last season, clocking 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions — is just as good, if not better, than many young starters and backups who have been signed to teams prior to this season. NFL network reporter Steve Wyche hinted that the reason Kaepernick is still a free agent is, according to team officials, not due to his ability as a quarterback, but his positions as an activist.
“A lot of folks think that Kaepernick is more focused on his socially conscious work… than he is about football,” Wyche said.
In his ESPN feature, Rodgers stressed that it was critical for white people to listen to people of color, rather than ignore their concerns, on the subject of police brutality.
“I don’t understand what it’s like to be in that situation. What it is to be pulled over, or profiled, or any number of issues that have happened, that Colin was referencing — or any of my teammates have talked to me about… But I know it’s a real thing my black teammates have to deal with,” he said.
Colin Kaepernick started a firestorm last season when he made the decision to kneel during the singing of the national anthem as a way of protesting the way African Americans are treated by police in America.
“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.com in 2016. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Matthew P. Robbins is an economics reporter for Grit Post covering wages, budgets, and taxes. He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his husband and two cats.