On Thursday, reports surfaced that the Seattle Seahawks had postponed a scheduled workout with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick spent the entirety of the 2017 season unsigned, one year after he first began kneeling during the pregame national anthem, in effect launching the protest movement that subsequently swept across the league. Seattle’s apparent reluctance comes from Kaepernick refusing to pledge to stand for the anthem in the future. He “declined to stop kneeling during the national anthem next season,” reported ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “The team asked for his plan moving forward on how to handle everything and there was not a firm plan,” said the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. One source told SB Nation that on the eve of his visit, Kaepernick was informed that “it’s not worth coming if he continued kneeling or doing on-field activism.”
While the reports relied on anonymous sources, this is as clear-cut an explanation for Kaepernick’s continued unemployment as we’ve seen—a bit of cynicism and NFL groupthink laid bare. As team after team went looking for a quarterback last season and as team after team declined to reach out to Kap—who led the Niners to two straight NFC championship games and played in the Super Bowl in 2013—it became impossible to escape the conclusion that his absence from the league was tied to the movement he’d started within it. In October, the quarterback did what little he could do, filing a complaint against the NFL saying that teams, many of them then scrambling to stop their players from kneeling, had colluded to keep him off the field. But we never knew—not for sure—that teams were freezing out a seemingly capable quarterback for daring to protest inequality on the field.
If Schefter’s reporting is correct, then now we know, at least in Seattle: Colin Kaepernick isn’t playing because of his activism. It’s particularly shocking that such a confirmation would come from the Seahawks, who have traditionally been seen as one of the teams most supportive of athlete activism. Their 180 on Kaepernick raises a number of other questions, including whether the team truly believed he might be amenable to backing away from the movement he started. An expectation that the protests would end was the same thing that broke up the NFL Players Coalition, the group that briefly met with team owners last season in an attempt to find common ground. Many players left the coalition, while others stopped protesting after reaching a deal for the owners to donate $89 million to social causes.
We’re left to wonder what, exactly, Seattle is afraid of that would inspire such a dramatic reversal. Fan outrage seems unlikely: Many Seahawks players, including defensive end Michael Bennett (now of the Eagles), were notably outspoken about the protest over the last two seasons. A number of players spent much of 2017 sitting on the bench during the anthem, while offensive tackle Duane Brown was among the league’s last players to remain kneeling through the end of the 2017 regular season. Seattle’s attendance hardly suffered: Last year, the team ranked third in attendance by stadium percentage. Are the Seahawks concerned about losing sponsors, as players like Von Miller and Brandon Marshall have over the past two seasons? Or is there fear that the NFL itself might somehow retaliate against anyone who dared to employ the quarterback who’s pursuing a grievance against the league? That in and of itself would seem to suggest collusion—but how else to explain Seattle’s desperation for a guarantee that the protest would end?
There is, at this point, a not insignificant chance that Johnny Manziel will find himself back in the NFL before Kaepernick does. In early 2016, shortly after Manziel lost the Browns starting job following reports of repeated in-season partying and unimpressive play, police responded to a call from his Dallas home, where his then-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, said that he had threatened her life and punched her so hard that he ruptured her eardrum. Manziel was indicted by a Dallas grand jury on a misdemeanor assault charge with bodily injury; the charges were later dismissed when Manziel enrolled in an anger-management course and entered the NFL’s substance-abuse program. Last month, Crowley told the New York Post that she was “lucky to have survived.” While Manziel has said little publicly about the incident, the quarterback has lately been publicizing his efforts to win back a spot in the NFL, and redemption stories are already circulating: “Johnny Manziel’s New Maturity, Serious Approach Could Sway Naysayers,” Sports Illustrated declared last month. “Johnny Manziel’s make-or-break comeback moment is here,” the Post wrote. “#ComebackSZN,” proclaimed The Dallas Morning News, echoing the name of Manziel’s own product line, alongside a timeline that included details of Crowley’s alleged assault. These stories use words like “maturity” and “stability” and “growth” and harp on the quarterback’s newly professed sobriety, as if to say that the real problem with Manziel was his fondness for bottle service and not that, years later, a person still remembers how terrified he made her.
Manziel, for his part, addressed the comparison to Kaepernick on Twitter last month, writing that “the reason [Kaepernick’s] not being signed are non football based.” Thursday’s reports suggest that he’s right: The Seahawks might have finally made that clear.