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Eventually, the Aaron Rodgers controversy will pass. Why doesn’t Colin Kaepernick get the same chance?

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 11/10/2021 Gary Washburn
It's hard to believe that Colin Kaepernick couldn't at least be a backup quarterback in the NFL. © Todd Kirkland It's hard to believe that Colin Kaepernick couldn't at least be a backup quarterback in the NFL.

What’s even more stunning than Aaron Rodgers’s denial that he lied about being vaccinated, when he got cute and instead used the word “immunized,” is the lack of accountability he’ll face after this controversy subsides.

Rodgers will return to the field for the Green Bay Packers, throw a couple of touchdown passes, do his discount double check move, and all will be forgiven. We will move on, giving Rodgers a pass because of his greatness, disregarding the fact he misled the public for months about his vaccination status, didn’t wear the required mask for unvaccinated players at news conferences, and essentially lived fraudulently until he tested positive for COVID-19.

And instead of apologizing for his actions, Rodgers fired back at the NFL for its COVID policies, refusing to accept any culpability. It was dishonest and reprehensible, but Rodgers will benefit off the privilege he’s enjoyed since his career began.

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What’s more, there are plenty of second and third chances for certain players. Rodgers always will be beloved, never blackballed, never discriminated against, never told a political or social stance, such as his apparent “research” on vaccines, will cost him his status.

While the NFL searches for capable quarterbacks, as unheralded backups go under center to lead teams worth billions of dollars, the man who truly sacrificed fails to get an opportunity.

Colin Kaepernick seemingly has moved on, turning his journey into a Netflix series. He remains a symbol of NFL hypocrisy. The NFL will run any player with an average arm who is over 6 feet tall under center unless he’s a Black man with a strong opinion, one that held a mirror up to the NFL and because the league didn’t like the reflection, blamed him for offering his constructive criticism, some of which it has actually used to improve over the past five years.

But Kaepernick hasn’t gotten serious consideration to return, so we are left watching Mike White, Josh Johnson, Trevor Siemian, Mike Glennon, Drew Locke, P.J. Walker, Jacob Eason, Brandon Allen, and John Wolford throw passes in NFL games this year. White, a fifth-round pick three years ago out of Western Kentucky, is the only one who’s marginally considered a prospect.

Last season, the Broncos were so desperate for a quarterback they used backup receiver Kendall Hinton as a starter against the Saints. If that wasn’t a sign that Kaepernick will never return, I’m not sure what is.


Video: Despite controversy and fines, Rodgers has leverage over Packers | You Pod to Win the Game (Yahoo! Sports)

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And it’s sad that teams are so afraid of Kaepernick’s voice, his influence on younger teammates, that he might actually turn his NFL brethren from robots into thinkers, that he might actually influence some to stray from social media obsessions and read about their history, their culture, and their heritage that they would rather play frauds at the most important position in professional sports.

And somehow, all 32 NFL owners have colluded that this is fair and acceptable because of fear of the consequences of Kaepernick’s presence. We have no idea if Kaepernick still could be an NFL starter, but stop it with the narrative that he couldn’t be a capable backup. Check out the list of the 32-plus backup quarterbacks in this league and then ask yourself how much you’d trust them with your favorite team.

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Kaepernick likely didn’t help his chances for an NFL return with his Netflix series, in which he accused owners and the NFL power structure of discrimination and exploitation. He detailed the difficulty of being taken seriously as a quarterback in his youth, how he had to fight for his scholarship to Nevada (and how my alma mater, Cal, didn’t offer him a scholarship despite his desire to go there, ugh).

Kaepernick’s road is not a privileged one. He accused the NFL and this country of racism and discrimination, and then was deserted by the league for his opinions. Rodgers gets to offer a non-apology on Tuesday, and it’s, no problem Aaron, get back healthy and lead the Packers to the Super Bowl. A week of social media scrutiny, that’s enough punishment.

Maybe Kaepernick, now 34, isn’t skilled enough to play in the NFL anymore, but let’s find out. NFL teams need to acknowledge he was right about a lot of things, and many people didn’t realize until George Floyd’s murder that this country has serious racial issues. Kaepernick said it four years before that horrific incident.

Or the NFL should be bold enough to say, we reject the message and the messenger, and he’ll never be forgiven for speaking his truth. Didn’t Rodgers speak what he believes is his truth? Didn’t he strike down vaccination after lying about his status for months? Didn’t he reject the opinions of NFL-sanctioned medical experts and declare his own philosophy on COVID-19?

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What was more dangerous? Kaepernick’s message that should have caused a racial awakening if he had not been suppressed? Or Rodgers suggesting vaccination was an ineffective means of combating COVID-19?

But we do know this society isn’t just for many people of color and from underrepresented communities. That the good ol’ boy network is as American as baseball and apple pie. We know that those who are silent, follow orders, and conform within the NFL’s system — or many systems in Corporate America, for that matter — are accepted and allowed to mire in their mediocrity.

Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

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