Sports

Is the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick Workout a Sham?

Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick, then of the San Francisco 49ers, warms up during a game against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 27, 2016, in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2016. In the intervening three years, the 32-year-old former San Francisco 49ers quarterback hasn’t even been able to get an NFL workout. That’s set to change this weekend, though it remains unclear if this weekend’s event is a legitimate tryout or a league-orchestrated PR move.

On Tuesday, the NFL informed all 32 teams that Kaepernick—who’s been effectively blacklisted from the league on account of the protest movement he started by kneeling during the national anthem—will perform for talent evaluators this Saturday in Atlanta. Kaepernick confirmed the news himself on Twitter:

Given the logistics of the workout and the backstory behind it, however, there is reason to wonder how genuine an opportunity this is going to be.

As Kaepernick noted in his tweet, he only learned of the workout proposal on Tuesday. A source familiar with the process told Slate that the league had no prior communication with Kaepernick or his representatives before floating the workout plan on Tuesday. As ESPN reported, the league rejected a request to move the workout to a different day:

When notified, the quarterback’s reps asked for the workout to be on a Tuesday, which typically is when all NFL workouts take place, since head coaches and general managers can more easily attend. This Saturday, almost half of the NFL teams will be traveling to games, and most of the rest of the coaches and players will be heading to their team hotels to prepare for their games the next day.

The source told Slate that the NFL declined a request to move the date of the workout to either Tuesday or next Saturday. Kaepernick was then given two hours to respond to the offer, the source said, at which point the quarterback accepted the NFL’s terms.

The league did accede to one request from Kaepernick’s camp, the source said, agreeing to provide a list of general managers, coaches, and key personnel who would be attending the workout. The league agreed to provide that list on a rolling basis starting on Wednesday, the source told Slate.

ESPN further reported that “none of the 32 teams had been made aware of the workout prior to the memo being sent” and that the league office refused to tell Kaepernick’s representatives if any team had requested the workout.

Saturday’s workout will come one month after Kaepernick’s representatives released a two-page statement arguing that the quarterback was ready to play. “I have reached out to all 32 teams about Colin’s employment with little to no response from teams about an opportunity for Colin,” agent Jeff Nalley said in the release. “In 25 years, I have never seen anything like it.”

The NFL’s lack of flexibility on the terms of the workout and the last-minute nature of the move raise the prospect that this is all a publicity stunt—that the league wants it to look like it’s giving Kaepernick a chance without actually giving him a chance.

Given that the league’s blackballing of Kaepernick remains obvious to anyone who’s watched the NFL this season, it seems plausible that the NFL decided it needed to at least make a show of offering Kaepernick an opportunity, and that the quarterback has now called its bluff. Or it could be that after settling a collusion grievance with Kaepernick and fellow protester Eric Reid—who now plays for the Carolina Panthers—earlier this year, the league is finally ready to give the 32-year-old quarterback a real shot.

ESPN reported on Tuesday that some teams were lining up to participate:

One source from an NFC team told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that the team will review whether to attend the Kaepernick workout on Wednesday morning. “We have nothing to lose by attending Kaepernick’s workout, but I still think for us it would just be an information-gathering trip,” the source said. Another source told Anderson that there is interest in the Dallas Cowboys organization to send at least one representative to the workout.

It will be easy enough to tell if Kaepernick’s workout is a sham. Consider these numbers:

Now consider that the quarterbacks employed by NFL teams this year include part-time high school football coach Josh McCown and (the bad kind of) record-breaker Nathan Peterman.

If Kaepernick doesn’t have a deal after this weekend, it will be clear yet again that the league and its franchises care more about politics than winning football games.