Just two years ago — Dec. 16, 2016, to be exact — Daniel Snyder gave President-elect Donald Trump a $1 million holiday gift. It was to help defray the costs of myriad inaugural events planned to celebrate the country’s newly elected chief.
That was four months after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first dropped to a knee with the national anthem blaring to protest a spate of police killings of unarmed black men. It was an act that was bluntly and profanely criticized by the president-to-be whom Snyder sought to fête, one who campaigned on policing policies deemed unconstitutional because they targeted the very men for whom Kaepernick dared stand down.
Yet there are those who root for the football team Snyder owns in Washington who wonder how it could be that Snyder’s football bosses, in emergency need of a quarterback, tapped a guy who hadn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2011, and another who all but flunked out of the league two seasons ago, instead of the more accomplished, more versatile, slightly younger and just-as-out-of-work Kaepernick.
Because it raises the question: How hypocritical would that be?
And it produces the answer: just as disingenuous as it would be for Kaepernick to entertain that overture, as one report this week suggested he would.
Kaepernick can’t play in Washington. He can’t even consider it. His legacy can’t afford it. And Snyder’s politics can’t allow him.
Snyder’s coach, Jay Gruden, channeled his boss when Kaepernick’s protest first made news: “For three minutes, for us to take our helmet off and stand up and give respect is how we treat it here with the Redskins.”
And there’s that — that team name. It was the target of a protest once more Sunday at the organization’s Ashburn headquarters, where Rebrand Washington Football, a group of fans who, for several years, have urged Snyder to change the team’s nickname, defined as a slur against Native Americans, gathered again to voice their displeasure. D.C. Councilman David Grosso joined them.
Kaepernick has led us to believe he would be more likely to stand with Rebrand Washington Football outside Snyder’s team headquarters than on the sideline or the field with the team the group protests and Snyder owns. It would be a zenith of insincerity for Kaepernick to continue his stand for racial justice and at the same time take a paycheck from a team that symbolizes racial injustice through its obstinance in maintaining its nickname. The Supreme Court did protect the nickname as free speech, but Justice Samuel Alito also pointed out in a majority opinion that the nickname fits language that “demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground.”
Even more pointedly for Kaepernick, a U.S. government study drew causality between mascoting Native Americans and violence against them: “About 7 in 10 violent victimizations of American Indians involved an offender who was described by the victim as someone of a different race — a substantially higher rate of interracial violence than experienced by white or black victims.” If Kaepernick is truly against societal violence against people of color, he must strike Washington from places he is willing to toil in the NFL if given the chance again.
It was such a finding by the government that inspired the American Psychological Association to resolve that Native American mascoting be ended. The warning is being heeded. Indeed, the latest evidence, such as a recent investigation from University of Maryland journalism students, suggests that Snyder’s team is turning into a relic by clinging to its early-19th-century nickname.
But this Kaepernick conundrum isn’t just on the local team. It continues to be on the league that Kaepernick once starred in — all the way to the Super Bowl — which is now the subject of a lawsuit from him in which he alleged it has colluded against him. Kaepernick’s lawyer Mark Geragos has been said to be collecting evidence to make Kaepernick’s case, such as John Elway’s clumsy explanation for why his Broncos decided not to bring Kaepernick to Denver.
Who knows if they have found the bullet from a smoking gun like I reviewed at Iowa State recently during a visit in which I made a beeline for its archives on Jack Trice, the namesake of its football stadium, who died of injuries suffered early in the 1923 season. Trice was its first black football player and one of the earliest at a white college. But before he was to play at Missouri, a school official reminded an Iowa State executive by letter that their conference agreed not to allow black players to play. Such a document would prove Kaepernick’s case beyond doubt.
But we know it isn’t just Washington that has issued a ridiculous explanation as to why Kaepernick doesn’t fit into its roster. The Undefeated last year started maintaining a list of all of the quarterbacks signed since Kaepernick volunteered for free agency in March 2017. Just this season, the Undefeated noted: “four teams that either lost their starting quarterback to injury . . . or were hindered by subpar play . . . signed players who have struggled in recent years . . . who hadn’t played since 2013 . . . who lasted less than a week with the team . . . ”
What Washington’s refusal to deal with Kaepernick added to this saga, as Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk suggested Monday, is the appearance that the league isn’t just colluding against Kaepernick — but retaliating against him, too.
“Look for Kaepernick to argue that what began as collusion over the notion that the collective belief that Kaepernick is ‘bad for business’ due to his role in sparking protests during the national anthem,” Florio wrote, “became team-specific retaliation against his willingness to pursue legitimate legal rights.”
There was a lot of wonderment over the past 21 months about what NFL city would be the best fit for Kaepernick — not the quarterback so much as the silent activist. Seattle. The Jets’ part of New York.
But if you thought about the least likely place, Snyder’s Washington would be what it just showed: It is.
Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Washington Post.