Without a team since 2016, Kaepernick has not appeared in the Madden series since “Madden 17.” EA negotiates the players’ licensing agreements through the NFL Players Association. To add him back to the game, EA worked directly with Kaepernick. Per the Undefeated, the quarterback was involved in discussions about his appearance and celebrations, which include a “Black Power fist.”
The symbolic gesture of taking a knee has been a recurring sight, particularly at protests or actions focused on the killing of unarmed African Americans by police.
At the time, Kaepernick’s protests drew widespread criticism from those, including President Trump, who believed the act was disrespectful toward the American flag and servicemen and -women. Throughout the season, the NFL dealt with fans threatening to boycott games and league broadcasts as long as the protests endured.
After the season, Kaepernick parted ways with the 49ers and was not signed by another team. Those who sought to rationalize the lack of interest in a former Super Bowl runner-up, who twice topped 3,000 passing yards in a season, maintained that he was no longer a viable NFL starting quarterback — despite a number of metrics suggesting he was more capable than a number of signal callers still getting chances to prove themselves.
The newly introduced version of Kaepernick for “Madden 21” sports an overall rating of 81, making him by far the top available free agent quarterback in the game. Moreover, a blog post touting the news of Kaepernick’s return suggested that players hoping to utilize the QB in franchise mode add him before the start of the preseason, since computer-controlled teams would not “miss the chance to scoop him up and make him their starter.”
That is, of course, not how reality played out when Kaepernick hit free agency after leaving the 49ers. Many of his supporters believe he was blacklisted from the league. He previously settled a lawsuit against the NFL alleging collusion in keeping him sidelined.
In an interview before the start of the 2020 season, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he wished “we had listened earlier” to Kaepernick and what he was trying to call attention to. Goodell also noted that the protests are not about the flag and said the actions of Kaepernick and other players who protested during the playing of the anthem had been “mischaracterized.”
As alluded to in the blog post and tweet announcing his return to the game, EA has had a mixed history with Kaepernick. The company endured a previous gaffe when it censored a song lyric featuring Kaepernick’s name from “Madden 19.” EA later apologized, calling it “an unfortunate mistake.”