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Why Kaepernick Is Unsigned: Performance Or Politics?

Sep 2, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Colin Kaepernick is a young, strong, rich and gifted athlete who took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl just five years ago. But he's on no team as the 2017 football season opens. And many are convinced that he's not standing for the national anthem to protest oppression of African-Americans is the reason. Colin Fleming has an opinion piece in The New York Times today that says myth has overtaken reality in the Kaepernick story. Author and critic Colin Fleming joins us from WBUR in Boston. Thanks so much for being with us.

COLIN FLEMING: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Is Colin Kaepernick, in your judgment, unsigned because of his politics or his performance as a quarterback?

FLEMING: I don't think we can say if it's one or the other. I think what troubled me was that I saw so many people who wouldn't necessarily know the difference between an end zone fade and icing in hockey say automatically without parsing through the situation of his play at all that it has to be racial. And it could be racial. But it's also the type of thing that you could see someone with his skill set at this point in his career trajectory both being in the league and not being in the league.

SIMON: Can you explain to us why a general manager or coach wouldn't, just in football terms, necessarily snap at the opportunity to sign Colin Kaepernick?

FLEMING: I think you have to ask yourself, can this player, in this case a quarterback, can he help us win? And how do you win in the league right now? It is not 40 years ago when you can win 17 to 10. You have to rack up the offense. And what Kaepernick basically does - his skill set, the best part of it - is he does not throw many interceptions. He had four last year against 16 touchdown passes. That's a really good ratio.

But someone like Matt Ryan of the Falcons is throwing the ball down the field on these fading outs towards the sideline on a rope. And that's not something Kaepernick has the accuracy really to do. So he's someone who helps you tread water, don't make mistakes, and other players on the team can come to the fore and make the plays that win a game. So in a way, he's a bit of an anachronism. His timing is not ideal for the league right now.

SIMON: I'm a Bears fan. And I got to tell you that I was skeptical that Colin Kaepernick wasn't being signed because of his political stand. And then the Miami Dolphins signed Jay Cutler...

FLEMING: Yes.

SIMON: ...Formerly of the bears and, I say this as a Bears fan, one of the worst quarterbacks in the National Football League. Why is Jay Cutler playing and Colin Kaepernick isn't?

FLEMING: I think what's happening there is there is a coach who is somewhat of a quarterback whisperer, you might say, who has gotten the best out of Cutler in the past. But I guess they're looking at it as we need to outpoint a team like the Patriots. We were a playoff team last year. We can envision being a playoff team this year.

Cutler has, in the parlance, a major league arm. He can make the throws. He often doesn't have the head. He will throw you, to the other team, a couple chances to pick him off every game. But I would imagine they look at it as a higher ceiling.

SIMON: All that being said, you hope Colin Kaepernick winds up on an NFL roster somewhere?

FLEMING: I do. I think he's interesting. I like stories where someone has had tribulations, and they assert themselves. Sometimes it's great athletes. Pedro Martinez was always looking for an edge that way. And other times, it's an underdog like this. And yeah, I think I'd like to see him succeed in the league again.

SIMON: Colin Fleming, thanks very much for being with us.

FLEMING: Thanks so much for having me.

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