There’s an old baseball maxim that says you will surely win 60 games and lose 60 games in a season. It’s what you do with other 42 that make you a contender or pretender.
Likewise, with the Colin Kaepernick controversy, we are sure of two things – he has the right to protest during our national anthem, and he will be criticized for it.
Because the topic is so toxic, folks have retreated into the safety of platitudes. Mainly, that the 49ers quarterback has the right to sit, stand, or lie down during the anthem. Fine.
It’s also a Captain Obvious moment to agree with Kaepernick’s premise that millions of minorities don’t get their fair slice of the American Dream. Only a fool would dispute that message, or his right to reinforce it.
But he finds himself twisting in cultural quicksand, which speaks not only to the current state of national sensitivity, but also a monolithic force in American history.
Perhaps the most opaque place in all this is the military dynamic. The Star Spangled Banner and, by extension, the American flag, are symbols of military devotion and sacrifice. So, naturally, many veterans and those who support them are chafed by Kaepernick’s actions.
People who would otherwise laud Kaepernick’s courage and social awareness simply have a problem with his methods. No matter how proper your message, it’s bad business to even unintentionally offend those in our armed forces.
Kaepernick has attempted to douse this fire by assuring us that he means no disrespect to anyone who has fought for or defended the United States of America.
But if the last few years, the last decade, or the age of social media has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t get to choose whom we offend by our public statements.
During a spot on ESPN Radio this morning, former Cowboys great and Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin said the first image he summons when he sees the flag is one of the troops, those who have lost limbs, who stand on their wheelchairs during the anthem. There are millions who are simpatico with Irvin.
So regardless of how singular or specific Kaepernicks’s message may be, no amount of fine print can erase those images or modify the damage he does. And if Kaepernick insists on sitting out during the pregame ritual, he now knows he will continue to offend those patriotic sensibilities. Whether he means to or not.
Kaepernick’s stance may also have put the 49ers in a perilous position. Before this story sizzled on the front page, there was a resounding sense that Kaepernick was a turnover or two from being cut by the club. Now, if he’s released, it may be seen as retribution, more of a punitive than personnel move.
We can’t change the facts on the ground. But it would have been fascinating to see Kaepernick do this when he strutted from the top rungs of the sport, shredding defense and flexing his considerable arms, smooching his biceps after another touchdown.
Would he have done this when he had the most to lose, and not the least? Or is it just a matter of timing? Racial tensions weren’t as white-hot when he was one touchdown pass from winning a Super Bowl. Perhaps you could argue this is the best time to do it, that it proves how profoundly he feels by greasing the skids toward unemployment.
Either way, it’s not fair to question his motives. Even in his dilapidated, vocational state, it took courage to do this. We can’t dispute that. You’ll have to decide if it was wise, if it was a matter of right message, wrong time.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.