I am going to start this post by doing something unusual—comparing the career and season statistics of two National Football League (NFL) quarterbacks. No worries, though, because this comparison serves a greater purpose…
Quarterback #1’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 58.4, 1.74 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 86.1 quarterback rating.
Quarterback #2’s career statistics: Completion percentage of 59.8, 2.4 touchdowns for every interception he’s thrown, 88.9 quarterback rating.
Quarterback #1’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 52.9, 1.36 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 75.8 quarterback rating.
Quarterback #2’s 2016 statistics: Completion percentage of 59.2, 4 touchdowns for every interception he threw, 90.7 quarterback rating.
Quarterback #1 is Cam Newton, who had a down year last year but was the 2015 Offensive MVP and is still viewed as one of the bright young stars of the NFL. Quarterback #2 is Colin Kaepernick, who is currently not on an NFL roster.
While I am sure other football fans can find statistics where Newton compares favorably to Kaepernick, the point of this comparison is not to say whether Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback. But the mere fact that the unemployed Kaepernick has statistics even comparable to a former NFL Offensive MVP should tell people one thing about the current state of Kaepernick’s career: his unemployment has nothing to do with football, and everything to do with the fact that many of us (myself included, at times) resent athletes who challenge our society’s status quo.
The most recent example of this is with Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers player refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year, and is not on an NFL roster this year thus far.
However, this is far from the first time that an athlete faced severe consequences for challenging the societal status quo. Muhammad Ali, who was almost universally praised after his death last year, was reviled by many for his refusal to serve in Vietnam and his outspokenness on racial issues. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were forced to return the medals they won in the 1968 Olympics because of their Black Power salutes in a medal ceremony while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. And a big stir was made when Magic Johnson came out as being HIV-positive at a time when HIV/AIDS was still stigmatized, only to play in the 1992 National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game and the 1992 Olympics.
If one were to consider Kaepernick, not as an isolated incident, but within the greater history of activist athletes, the conclusion is that there is a resentment toward athletes who challenge the status quo. Such resentment has stayed strong, even though decades have changed.
To those who feel that resentment, I urge all of you to at least hear out Kaepernick, even if you don’t agree with him (myself included, as I didn’t agree with his not voting in 2016). I urge everyone to hear him out because, when athletes double up as activists, it is often for good reason and often produces positive results for our society. For example, Muhammad Ali’s outspokenness on racial issues positively contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, and Magic Johnson’s openness on testing HIV-positive started to remove the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. It remains to be seen whether Kaepernick will make contributions as positive as those of people like Johnson and Ali, but given the fact that positive things can and often do happen when athletes double up as activists challenging the status quo, we should at least give him a chance.