Editorial: It’s not enough to apologize to Colin Kaepernick. The NFL needs to give him a job

San Francisco 49ers' Eric Reid, left, and Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem in September 2016.
Colin Kaepernick, right, shown kneeling with Eric Reid during the national anthem before a game in 2016, is still waiting for an NFL team to give him a chance to play as a quarterback again.
(Mike McCarn / Associated Press)
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National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell may have just been trying to score PR points with players and the public this month when he tweeted out a statement condemning systemic racism, acknowledging that there would be no NFL without Black players and encouraging players to “speak out and peacefully protest.”

But if Goodell wants to be taken seriously when he says that the league is listening to players, that it acknowledges the struggles of Black Americans and that it wants to “improve and go forward,” the place to start is by ensuring Colin Kaepernick has a job again as an NFL quarterback.

We can spend hours dissecting Kaepernick’s abilities as a player, but comparing him to the dozens of other quarterbacks who’ve played in the three years he’s been sidelined — some of them stars, many of them hacks — is beside the point. He didn’t get a tryout with a single team, and that’s not because of his skills or his salary; as various NFL insiders and analysts have acknowledged, he was frozen out because he had the audacity during the 2016 season to “take a knee” while the national anthem was playing.


Kaepernick’s protests, which were intended to draw attention to police brutality and discrimination against Black people, inspired many of his fellow players, but they also riled fans, triggered President Trump and pushed controversy into the face of owners who run from it. Goodell has promised an end to such cowardice, but his tweet is meaningless unless the league welcomes back the guy brave enough to put his career on the line for his beliefs.

The NFL may think it resolved its Kaepernick problem when it reached confidential settlements in 2019 to the collusion lawsuits he and former 49ers safety Eric Reid brought against the league. And ultimately, whether Kaepernick is signed will be up to one of the 32 teams that has refused even to bring him in for a workout. But Goodell’s credibility, and the league’s, is on the line here (which Goodell seems to recognize; on Monday, he told ESPN that he would welcome a team signing Kaepernick, and “I encourage them to do that”). If the NFL wants the world to believe that it respects its players’ voices and their protests, it needs Kaepernick back in uniform.