Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton are in very different places these days, both on the field and off. While Newton is coming off of an NFL MVP season and an appearance in the Super Bowl, the unquestioned leader of his Panthers and one of the league’s biggest stars, Kaepernick struggled last season and lost his starting job for the lowly 49ers to unheralded Blaine Gabbert.
Despite not playing much, Kaepernick, of course, has been in the national spotlight recently for refusing to stand during the national anthem and inspiring other athletes to stage similar protests of injustice in this country. Meanwhile, Newton told GQ in August that “we’re beyond” issues of race “as a nation,” and through his team, he reportedly has worked with Republican pollster Frank Luntz on his choice of language.
When asked directly by ESPN about Kaepernick’s protests earlier this month, Newton said, “Who am I to say that it’s wrong? Who am I to say that it’s right? Either or, it’s still personal. What I can’t, you know, fathom is, how does one-eighth of an inch — something so small — be the difference and such a big commodity in our whole lifetime. And that’s the thickness of our skin, one-eighth of an inch. Under that, we’re all the same color, and that’s the big picture.”
Sunday found the pair in the same place, as Kaepernick’s 49ers visited Newton’s Panthers. When the game ended, the two quarterbacks crossed paths at midfield and had some sort of exchange that was captured by photographers.
In at least two of those photos, Kaepernick was caught with quite a noteworthy expression on his face, and one had the Internet leaping to fill in the blank. Suggestions ranged from political to, not surprisingly, quite silly. Here is a sampling:
The moment between the pair was brought up Monday on Fox Sports’s “Speak for Yourself.” Jason Whitlock said “that looked like these two guys don’t like each other,” and he noted that, last year, Kaepernick had retweeted posts claiming that he, not Newton, was the first to do a celebratory dab.
Shannon Sharpe opined that Kaepernick may be feeling unhappy about Newton’s comments about race or simply about the fact that, after leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, he’s been superseded by the likes of the Panthers quarterback and others. Whitlock posited that Newton might have been the one expressing an issue with Kaepernick’s behavior threatening the ability of Newton and others to make money in the NFL, funds that could be used to help others.
In the end, Newton and Kaepernick may have had an entirely innocuous exchange, with the latter perhaps caught with an expression of surprise at unexpectedly being hailed by the Carolina star as he was leaving the field. But it’s understandable, especially given the controversy surrounding Kaepernick, that many would take the opportunity to read plenty into it.