The NFL’s decision to organize a private workout for Colin Kaepernick on Saturday in Atlanta is not what it looks like on the surface. Mostly it feels like a guy inviting an old girlfriend to dinner and getting her hopes up at the thought of reconciling when he really has zero interest other than ending the relationship on good terms. He wants her to think he’s a good guy so she tells all her friends that he isn’t the lying and manipulating pig they all know him to be.
Those were my first thoughts after hearing about the “opportunity” for Colin Kaepernick, the 32-year-old quarterback who has been out of football for more than two seasons, whiteballed by the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police violence. And the longer and harder you look at it, the more to have to tip your hat to the NFL’s brilliance in making a chess move Bobby Fischer would admire.
ESPN’s has Adam Schefter reported that several executives with teams have reached out as a courtesy to Colin Kaepernick’s representatives saying they couldn’t attend the workout, adding they were confused by the NFL’s purpose in scheduling it on a Saturday and on five days’ notice.
Well, I’m not confused at all. The NFL is fully aware that the majority of teams do not typically conduct workouts on Saturdays, when all the real decision-makers are scouting college players or traveling with their clubs for Sunday’s games. Which is why Kaepernick’s team requested to have it rescheduled for a Tuesday. Not surprisingly, the request was denied.
The NFL has basically told Kaepernick to take it or leave it, creating for the league a no-lose situation no matter how Saturday plays out. Here’s a walk through every scenario.
1) Kaepernick declines the NFL’s offer of a workout
If Kaepernick refuses to accept the NFL’s less-than-ideal terms and doesn’t show, then commissioner Roger Goodell will have the plausible deniability they’ve wanted from day one. The spin will be: “We tried to offer him a chance to come back, but he declined. We’re not whiteballing him from the league. We would welcome him back with open arms. Look at the great lengths we went to in order to provide him with an opportunity to resume his playing career. We can’t force him to play. We’ve done all we could.”
2) Kaepernick attends the workout but doesn’t perform well
Maybe Kaepernick’s performance at this last-minute workout fails to impress the scouts who do attend. More plausible deniability. The spin will be: “While we respect the fact that Kaepernick has a desire to resume his football career, the numbers are what they are. He just isn’t good enough. He has to be able to have a balance between being an activist, which we all respect, and being able to perform at the level of an NFL quarterback. We will do everything we possibly can to further the cause that he raised through our efforts with the Players Coalition, our social justice program Inspire Change and our partnership with Jay-Z and Roc Nation to bring actionable items to make a difference. We wish Colin Kaepernick good luck in all his future endeavors.”
3) Kaepernick performs well enough to warrant a contract offer, but doesn’t promise to stand for the anthem
Saturday’s workout, as with most events like these, will include an interview session in addition to the on-field evaluation. Let’s say Kaepernick performs well enough for a contract offer, but scares off interested suitors by not guaranteeing that he will stand for the national anthem.
The spin will be: “Well, we wanted to give him a job, but he just was unwilling to convince teams that he wouldn’t be a distraction. Teams want to win football games, and we can’t force them to accept someone who won’t even agree to follow the rules, which clearly state that a player is to either remain in the locker room or stand respectfully at attention for the anthem. We have acquiesced to his right to express himself by giving him the option of remaining in the locker room, against the wishes of the president of the United States and our fans who want to see players stand and honor our veterans and respect this wonderful country we live in that affords NFL players to receive million-dollar contracts they enjoy. We have done all we could possibly do and, apparently, it’s still not enough.”
4) Kaepernick is signed by a team, accepting the condition he never kneels again
What if Kaepernick takes a deal on the condition he stands for the anthem, as some sources have speculated will be asked of him. Then it will be: “This fraud who you have idolized and held up as a hero is nothing but a phony. He was paid by Nike to tell everyone to ‘Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything’, but doesn’t follow his own advice. He’s no Ali, he is only about the money.”
Cue every right-wing commentator across the country taking this narrative on a victory lap, having discredited someone who had become a cultural icon.
5) Kaepernick is signed by a team, no strings attached
The spin will be: “We, along with the help of our trusted ally Jay-Z, have been successful at proving to the world that we are truly a league that values black people, black lives and freedom of expression. We are going to continue our plan for progress as we set up concert series across the country with Roc Nation and deliver inspirational messages and actionable items towards a greater tomorrow. By putting this issue to bed, we along with Jay-Z and Roc Nation will continue our goal to Make the NFL Great Again.”
Like back in the day when Don King would be patiently waiting at ringside to embrace whichever fighter won, jumping into the ring with a big smile and open arms regardless of the outcome, that’s exactly the no-lose situation what the NFL has set up which will in addition extricate themselves from the PR catastrophe they made for themselves. It’s taken three long years to get there, but the the league’s long national nightmare is finally over. It’s checkmate for the NFL, regardless of Saturday’s outcome. Well played, Roger Goodell.