Plenty of Blame to Go Around in Kaepernick and NFL Fiasco

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stands on the field before their NFL pre-season football game against the Denver Broncos in San Francisco, California, U.S. August 8, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

Colin Kaepernick claims that he wants to be back in the NFL.  The NFL claims it wants to give him the opportunity to make that happen. 

Neither statement appears to be true. 

While the finger pointing reached epidemic levels on Saturday, one key fact became clear.  There is plenty blame to go around.  You can nitpick all you want, you can point fingers in either direction, but it is clear that there were a lot of better options than what happened, a result, that ultimately will provide trouble for both sides—unless you believe Kaepernick’s sole mission is to get attention.

Let’s look at some of the basic facts.

  • The NFL set up a workout for Kaeperncik at the Atlanta Falcons facility in Flower Branch. For those that have not been there, it is located in the far NE suburbs of Atlanta, and on the complete opposite end of town from the airport (a fact that might be important later)
  • The NFL did not allow Kaepernick to select the date.
  • The NFL did not consult with Kaepernick or his agents and representatives about the date.
  • The NFL did not consult with the teams about the date or location of the workout and unilaterally scheduled the date without giving them any advance notice until the release went out.
  • NFL player tryouts are typically held by teams on Tuesdays.
  • On Saturdays, most NFL personnel are either involved in preparing for their Sunday game or scouting major college football games in person.
  • Most NFL workouts are closed not only to the public, but to the media and also to a player’s agent (or other representatives).
  • Players are not allowed to film their own workouts nor do they get tape of that workout to distribute for any other purposes.
  • Players are routinely asked to sign injury waivers to participate in the workout.

So against that backdrop, we can now see how unreasaonable both sides were in the way that they handled this process.

Problems with NFL Position

In my view, the biggest problems with the NFL action related to unilaterally scheduling the date and doing so without any input from Kaepernick or the other NFL teams.   Setting the workout on a Tuesday may have had some good, though as yet, unarticulated purpose.  However, from the outside, it appeared to be set in a way that would create a lot of hype, but with little substance, since it would make it difficult for many teams to attend.  The injury waiver requirement is interesting.  Some reports have characterized it as a standard media waiver.  Others have highlighted the significant distinctions and sided with Kaepernick’s counsel who classified it as overreaching.  You can judge for yourself by reading this great analysis by Michael McCann who writes for Sports Illustrated.   While the NFL does not typically allow workouts to be filmed, it is obvious that this case is anything but typical.  For instance, the NFL typically does not set up the workouts nor does the NFL distribute film or reports from the workouts to all of the NFL teams. 

A bit of advance planning with Kaepernick’s camp could have prevented some of this drama and ultimately I think the NFL should have relaxed its positon on the media attendance at the workout.  The league’s statement Saturday afternoon about Kaepernick’s no-show struck me as a bit disingenuous because while that was technically true, the league had knowledge that Kaepernick had moved the workout.   So while its seemed reasonable to me to express frustration with that decision and the burden it put on traveling scouts, classifying it as a “No-Show” hardly seems accurate.

Problems with Kaepernick Position

In my view, ultimately Kaepernick came out the loser in this battle.  The NFL is big.  The NFL is powerful.  The NFL will survive even if Kaepernick does ultimately file (and even win) a lawsuit.  His time clock is ticking and his actions alienated a lot of teams in the league and likely pissed off many in the scouting community who felt that they were bending over backwards to give him a chance, only to be given exceedingly late notice to move to a different location over an hour away. In my view, his behavior in moving the workout, especially on late notice, was an attempt to take control of a workout that was never his to start with.  If Kaepernick want to have his own workout, he could have done that at anytime over the last few years.  You know why he hasn’t?  Either he wasn’t interested, he wasn’t in shape or he knew that NFL teams would not attend.  So now with the league extending an olive branch (as flawed as it may have been), Kaepernick would have been better served to accept it for what it was an build on it from there.   Ask yourself this questions: If any person who works in finance was given an opportunity to interview for an executive position in an elite Wall Street firm, how would that firm react if the interviewee suggested on less than an hour’s notice that preferred to do the meeting in Hoboken, NJ and asked them to travel there to meet him. 

My position does not minimize Kaepernick’s important message and the courage it has taken him to stand up and fight for what he believes is right. But it does seem to me that this is another step in the wrong direction for him, just as were the pig police socks he wore after his initial protest.   The saddest part to me is that his entire message has been garbled and the power of his stance has been weakened dramatically from what it could have been and he has received far less support from the players (and probably also the league) because of those factors.

Additionally, I believe that because of his actions, many teams in the league now believe that Kaepernick was not that serious about really trying to play football.  That image has been consistent for the last few years and Saturday’s fiasco did nothing to indicate a serious intent to be part of the league. 

Remember, neither side is blameless.  But the negative repercussions are worse for Kaepernick.

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