A crowd of approximately 1,000, per the estimate of ESPN’s Josina Anderson, gathered outside the NFL’s headquarters in New York City Wednesday to protest the prolonged free-agency of Colin Kaepernick, The Washington Post reports.
Kaepernick became a free agent after last season when he opted out of his contract with the 49ers. The NFL’s regular season is just weeks away, and he has yet to receive a contract offer.
The protestors believe teams are refusing to sign Kaepernick because of his outspokenness with respect to social issues. Last year, Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S. Several players have since followed his example.
The rally followed the NAACP’s announcement earlier that it would pursue a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss what the civil rights group describes in a letter to Goodell as “a league wide set of retaliatory actions” against Kaepernick.
“In order to determine the best approach to protecting players from being unfairly persecuted for their political beliefs,” the civil rights group said in its letter, “we hope to begin a dialogue with you and any other members of NFL leadership who have a vested interest in preserving the league’s integrity.”
Goodell has yet to grant or deny the NAACP’s request.
At the rally, the NAACP handed out t-shirts depicting a kneeling Kaepernick with a large black fist protruding from his hair.
Rally organizers sent a letter of their own to Goodell, in which they accused the league of “actively participat[ing] in the ostracization of Mr. Kaepernick.”
The letter called upon the league to “implement a policy guaranteeing the freedom of speech of players to express their concerns on social justice issues,” and advocated penalties against teams “suspected of prohibiting or outright denying a player his rights.”
Further, the letter asked the NFL to “establish a unit tasked with developing a league wide plan to improve racial equality.”
Goodell has said in relation to the Kaepernick situation that it is not his place as commissioner to get involved in teams’ personnel decisions. Such choices, he said, “are decisions that the 32 clubs are going to have to make individually.”
Moreover, the commissioner has disputed the notion that teams’ reluctance to sign Kaepernick is in any way related to the quarterback’s protests.
Goodell has called the NFL “a meritocracy.”
“If a football team feels that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, is going to improve that team, they’re going to do it [i.e. sign him],” says Goodell.
Kaepernick led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012 and an NFC Championship berth in 2013 but has struggled over the past two seasons.
In 2015, he played the first eight games of the season, averaging 202 passing yards per game. San Francisco went 2-6 with Kaepernick under center, before giving the starting job to backup Blaine Gabbert. The team finished last in the NFC West at 5-11.
Last year, Kaepernick averaged less than 200 passing yards a game over 12 games and, at 2-14, the 49ers were among the worst teams in the league.
Kaepernick did accrue the second-most rushing yards of any NFL quarterback last year, with 468 (39/gm). In 2015, he had 256 rushing yards (32/gm)—eighth among quarterbacks—in just eight games. Throughout his career, he has consistently ranked among the league’s top rushing quarterbacks.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose team was reportedly considering signing Kaepernick as a backup to Russell Wilson, called Kaepernick a “fantastic football player.”
“…He’s a starter in this league, and I can’t imagine that someone wouldn’t give him a chance to play.”
The Seahawks did not give Kaepernick that chance, however, perhaps because the team believed he would be a threat to Wilson’s starting job.
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has been vocal in his belief that NFL teams are discriminating against Kaepernick.
“Of course I think Kaepernick’s being blackballed,” Bennett said, per CBSSports.com.
Kaepernick’s protests caused an uproar among some fans, and some teams may consider him a PR liability.
Said Giants owner John Mara, who has been with the team for over 25 years, of Kaepernick’s protest: “All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara, who joined the Giants in 1991, said last month. “‘If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game.’ It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I’ve run into.”
Kaepernick’s protest also garnered support both within the league and outside of it. Fans demonstrated solidarity with movements like the #VeteransForKapernick campaign, and players began emulating Kaepernick’s protests.
Goodell acknowledges that Kaepernick’s actions “sparked controversy,” but doesn’t believe the controversy would prevent teams from signing a player who would help their cause.
“I don’t think that’s going to affect people from saying, ‘I’m going to do what’s in the best interest of my football team and give my team the best chance to win,’” said Goodell, “because that’s what every team wants to do.”
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons