On September 12, 2016, 7.1 million households watched the San Francisco 49ers battle the newly relocated Los Angeles Rams on the debut evening of Monday Night Football.
After corporate media, local media and social media swirled with intrigue over whether or not Colin Kaepernick would truly usher in his preseason protest into the bright lights and the waiting visceral critique of the regular season (which he did), a football game commenced, which none of us expected Kaepernick to be involved in.
But now, after watching Blaine Gabbert continually fall on his face week after week, putting up some of the worst quarterback statistics in the league, Kaepernick now finds himself as more than just an anti-oppression meme. He is now officially the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.
In a press conference held early Tuesday morning, 49ers head coach Chip Kelly announced that Colin Kaepernick would be their starting quarterback this week in their upcoming road game against the Buffalo Bills.
“We’re gonna make a move at quarterback and start Colin this week,” Kelly said.
While for some fans the reception to this choice will be predicated more on their personal politics than their football IQ, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Niners looked absolutely horrible under Blaine Gabbert. Although he may have looked like a starting quarterback during that same September 12th game where they blew out the Rams 28-0, he has looked every bit the part of a career back-up in the four straight losses the team has suffered since then. So bad that during their nationally televised loss against the Cardinals last Thursday, fans began to openly chant for Kaepernick to get his job back.
— Anand Iyer (@ai) October 7, 2016
But if we’re being honest, the football dynamic will only be a small part of the discussion around this game and an even smaller part of how the result of this game will be disseminated. In the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent abrading comments referring to Colin Kaepernick’s protest as “dumb,” there is undeniable proof that our collective society is more invested in Kaepernick the Black activist, rather than Kaepernick the 6th-year pro. In many ways, the visceral nature his protest enacted has turned a week 6 match up between two embattled teams into what might be the most important game of Colin Kaepernick’s career.
For those who aren’t familiar with Colin Kaepernick that statement may not resonate in a jarring or meaningful manner. But for those of us who have seen him since the first time he replaced an injured Alex Smith all the way to him playing the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, that truism feels kinda weird. But this game isn’t about the Niners keeping their slim playoff chances alive against a Rex Ryan team filled with ferocious braggadocio. This game—and any potential game Kaepernick starts after this—will be used as a referendum on the totality of his talent, the ability of any (especially Black) professional athlete to be a starter while simultaneously being socially conscious and the impact of introducing advocacy into a locker room. This has already fashioned itself into the moment the “shut up and focus on [insert sport here]!” crowd has been waiting for.
From a common sense perspective, this game should be about Kaepernick’s reintroduction to the job he held for three straight years, but lost last year after a confluence of injuries and substandard play. This game should be about Kaepernick familiarizing himself with Chip Kelly’s no huddle, fast break, spread option scheme that actually fit Colin’s strengths as a mobile quarterback. This game should be about a quarterback who hasn’t played a meaningful snap since November 8th, 2015, fighting off the rust while continuing to heal from the three major off season surgeries (shoulder, right thumb, left knee) that caused him to drop 20 pounds.
If Kaepernick plays well, it’s very likely we’ll be collectively inundated by an “it was only the Bills” ideology from those who don’t consider him “patriotic” or respectful enough to be a starting quarterback. But if he plays bad, do not expect him to receive the “you’ll get’ em next time champ” coddling that Gabbert and other substandard quarterbacks hear.
Do not be surprised to hear, at best, a condemnation of him as a professional football player rife with predictions that his past career talent is irretrievable and at worst, a prejudice indictment of Black athletes who dare to use their influence to spark charge in their communities.
For better or worse, this is not just “another game.”
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site, ThisIsYourConscious.com. He’s author of the book, “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.