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Bias is keeping NFL teams from signing Kaepernick

His game is a perfect fit for the Houston Texans

A few nights ago I tweeted a random thought about the classic movie franchise, Rocky:

That very dated hot take probably comes as no surprise to people who’ve been following me throughout the NCAA basketball tournament.

In many situations, sports and otherwise, I tend to root for favorites. But, if I am being honest with myself, that’s not why I am a part of the #ApolloHive (it’s a thing). Maybe it is one of several reasons, but the most powerful factor that drew me to Apollo was his race. Apollo was black. He had the quintessential black man ’70s mustache. His skin was brown, like mine. Though he was not representative of the full breadth of blackness, culturally he was black, like me. A trash-talking, dancing, flamboyant showman, he was brashly black in ways I respected and admired.

The Oscar-winning film was beautiful and affecting. I saw it as a boy, more than a decade after it was first released. Artfully, the classic film cultivated a bond between Rocky and the viewers. He was the lovable yet flawed underdog who was down on his luck. Sylvester Stallone, the star and writer of the masterpiece, employed powerful devices to make Rocky into someone viewers loved. I was no different. I loved Rocky too — but I still wanted him to lose.

American actor Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky Balboa and American actor Carl Weathers, as Apollo Creed, during a boxing match in a still from the film, ‘Rocky,’.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Clad in an American flag robe, trunks and top hat, Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed was making a statement to a fictional America. Dressed as Uncle Sam with a freshly spritzed short ‘fro, Apollo was saying, without words, “This is me … this is us … I will not conform … this is America.” Apollo won that first fight, beating Rocky in a split decision. Jet magazine, the day after the fight in the fictional movie world of Rocky, should have had a think piece headlined “Creed holds a mirror up to America.”

The truth is that this tweet probably started in the same place as my support for Apollo Creed. Kaep is a black man who is holding a mirror up to America. He is black like me, not because of flamboyance or showmanship but because of commitment and sacrifice. Admirably, in the face of harsh blowback, he was resolute in his commitment to the principles America proclaims more fervently than it practices. While Kaep’s kneeling during the national anthem has made him a lightning rod for vitriol, it has also attracted many supporters of his stance as an activist.

But that appreciation has not extended into NFL front offices. According to Mike Freeman’s recent article, some NFL general managers “genuinely hate him” and consider Kaepernick “an embarrassment to football.” All because Kaepernick used the national anthem as an opportunity to draw attention to issues of injustice.

I haven’t been one to say that Kaepernick is being blackballed from the NFL, but comments like those ensure that at least part of the reason he is not on a team has to do with his activism. Even without those quotes, no one who follows football should be surprised that Kaep’s kneeling has negatively affected his status as a free agent.

To me, looking at Kaepernick’s career, there is much more reason to be encouraged about his future as a quarterback in the NFL than discouraged. But I acknowledge that my blackness likely has some impact on my analysis. I am not blinded by my desire to see Kaep succeed. I also see reasons not to be optimistic about Kaep. But even when I tried to suspend my biases, to the degree that it is possible, I still don’t understand how some NFL executives, fans and fellow analysts can be so sure that Kaep has no future as a starter in the NFL. It leaves me wondering, which one of their biases is influencing them?

The Houston Texans have a Super Bowl-ready roster, with few weaknesses — well, except for the most important position, quarterback. With future Hall of Famer Tony Romo opting for the broadcast booth, there is no clear best free-agent quarterback for the Texans. General manager Rick Smith has done a masterful job building this roster. He even managed to do the impossible: He freed the Texans of last year’s free-agent quarterback acquisition, Brock Osweiler. Now I believe he should go after Kaep. It’s unlikely that he will do so, but Kaep could be the perfect piece for this team.

With the speedy Kaepernick under center, teams would have to dedicate one defender to spying Kaep, which means one fewer rusher for the O-line, which has been shaky in pass protection. Defenses may choose to blitz Kaep, but then they won’t have extra defenders to double-cover the Texans’ big play receiving duo of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, as many teams did last season. Granted, Kaep’s deep balls are inconsistent, but he wasn’t throwing to Hopkins. Lamar Miller and the already strong running attack would get so much scarier if the defense had to account for Kaep as a running threat. It would ensure that no team could outnumber them in the box. But the most compelling reason for Kaep to go to Houston is because of something he doesn’t do: throw interceptions.

Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs with the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The strength of this team is its defense. The best companions for a team that’s led by its defense are a good running game and a long field. Kaep will improve the running game and throw few interceptions, allowing the Texans’ defense time to rest and get good field position. Kaep is far from a sure thing, but given the other options available, he seems like the best choice — no matter his views on race.

Race may not be a major factor in the biases that inform everyone’s opinions. Biases are often about personal identity. Race may not be core to the personal identity of everyone, but it is to me. If I am asked to describe myself, “black man” will always be one of the first things to come out of my mouth. My guess is that minorities understand where I am coming from. Others might not. Everyone’s personal identity is in part about how the world experiences them and what makes them different. Whether you are an ethnic, religious or sexual minority, it is likely that that difference will be central to your identity. It is part of what makes your experience unique to you.

It wasn’t until recently that I started to root exclusively for Americans in the Olympics. As a kid, I would reflexively root for black competitors no matter their nationality. It wasn’t a conscious choice, but I guess I just identified with them. Maybe this seems like an unfamiliar phenomenon to some people reading this. But if you don’t recognize similarities with others in yourself, you aren’t self-aware. It is present in everything, whether rooting for your alma mater or the player from your hometown who made it to the pros or defending a player from your team who has a criminal record.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) looks on during the second half of the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The saga isn’t over yet. If Kaep does get signed and plays well, it will be fun to watch fans who once hated Kaep find ways to rationalize the evolution of their feelings. This whole story — going all the way back to when his protest was first discovered until now, and the disparate reactions to him — will make an enthralling social science dissertation for some grad student.

Or 20 years from now, perhaps Ezra Edelman will make it the subject of an award-winning 30 for 30 piece: Made in America II — Kaepernick’s Dream Variations.

“What if I told you … a biracial boy, adopted by a white family, revealed America’s deepest division, months before the election of Donald Trump? What if I told you, after that boy took a stand by kneeling, he went on to win a Super Bowl? What if I told you, that boy went on to become America’s foremost leader on issues of injustice of all kinds? What if I told you … that boy went on to become Sen. Colin Kaepernick?”

Domonique Foxworth is a senior writer at Andscape. He is a recovering pro athlete and superficial intellectual.