Professional athletes over the course of their career are asked to constantly make tough decisions that best serve their interest, which is why Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem was one of the toughest things for a modern-day athlete to do.
We consistently hear about how the professional athlete has evolved over the years, seemingly more worried about branding and self-promotion, rather than the actual team and winning.
Some think Kaepernick’s protest was out of left field and a veiled attempt to garner attention and stay relevant since at the time the protest started, nobody knew if he was going to be the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers; not that it’s the most attractive job.
Kaepernick’s stance opened himself up to a barrage of criticism shrapnel from sports pundits, those in the media and even the casual NFL observer. He blurred the lines of politics and sports, which as a society we strive so desperately to keep separate.
Kaepernick recently received the Len Eshmont award — an award given to a player who inspired and was courageous. However, not everyone was thrilled about the team’s decision to give him the award.
When former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was asked how he felt about the decision to give Kaepernick the award, he didn’t mince words:
“I just find it hard to believe,” Theismann said last week. “You’re a 2-14 football team. He’s won one football game. What has he inspired? And the players voted for it. You question players at times. They just sort of move along en masse and do this.”
At first glance the former Super Bowl winning quarterback’s comments appear to be laced with the hard truth. However, they aren’t. The Len Eshmont award is voted on by the players and is given to a member of the 49ers who demonstrated an ability to inspire and perform under pressure, not based on statistical production.
The 49ers had a grand total of two wins this season. Kaepernick was responsible for one and fellow quarterback Blaine Gabbert was responsible for the other. So, to highlight the number of wins Kaepernick has is an irrelevant point, because it’s not like he was thoroughly outplayed by his teammate at the position. In fact, he wasn’t.
Recent recipients of the Len Eshmont award include former wide receiver Anquan Boldin, former running back Frank Gore, linebacker Navarro Bowman and defensive tackle Justin Smith to name a few.
In Theismann’s defense he did add this:
“I don’t agree with what he’s done,” Theismann continued. “As a matter of fact, the American flag…stands for the right to be able to do the things you want to do, to be able to stand up and have a difference of opinion. I agree with that part of it, but not when you’re on the job.”
So, in fairness he’s not against freedom of expression, he just wants it with limitations.
Theismann then criticized NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for what he deemed as a tepid response to the Kaepernick conundrum and implored him to act quickly and decisively:
“I think he’s been wishy-washy on it,” Theismann said. “I think you have to stand up and present it to the owners. You know, Clark Hunt, who owns the Kansas City Chiefs, made it very, very clear: You will stand. If you’re in the organization, if you’re on the team, if you’re on the coaching staff. And if you don’t, you will be gone. Period. Nice, simple statement. And I think that the National Football League has to take a stance.”
Theismann’s a very smart man and very opportunistic in nature. He knows that by criticizing Kaepernick solely based off the national anthem stance it would make him the latest member to join in the lynch mob forming around Kaepernick.
So how could he convey his true disdain for something in a way that came across as subjective? By changing the narrative. That’s how.
The history of the award dictates the recipient is someone who the players feel best exemplifies the qualities Len Eshmont exhibited when he was playing. To use qualifiers such as statistics and number of wins on the season to summarily dismiss Kaepernick is an argument devoid of having any real foundation.
It’s clear that Theismann had his own agenda working at hand. We all do to a certain extent. (i.e. me with this article)
However, there’s an underlying message to learn from this. This notion that the word “free” exists has been debunked. Nothing in life is free. Freedom isn’t free.
And Kaepernick is learning that the hard way, as he will continue to pay the ultimate price for if his position remains what it is.
But in his eyes, it’s a worthy expense and I couldn’t agree any more.
Marcus Lamar is a Washington D.C.-based sports journalist. You can check out his podcast “Marc My Words” on Soundcloud, YouTube and coming to iTunes soon. Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.