SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It’s almost cut day in the NFL.
You know what that means: “It’s a business” will be the favorite phrase of coaches, players and analysts, right up until the season starts and “Gotta watch the film” returns to the No. 1 spot. Instead of having two cut days, the NFL this year will have one — Sept. 3, when teams must trim rosters from 90 to 53, and when coaches say it’s their worst day of the year, they mean it.
But it’s a business. And business is why Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned by an NFL franchise.
It’s not collusion among NFL owners. It’s not a flag-waving league joining arms to blackball the polarizing, 29-year-old quarterback. It’s not that Kaepernick’s skillset requires a custom-designed playbook that makes him not worth the trouble as a backup. Well, the latter is a factor, just as it was with Tim Tebow, but not the biggest.
It’s a business, and Kaepernick — not solely for his anthem kneeling, but also for his cops-are-pigs sock game and belief that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro deserves acclaim — is disliked by a far bigger chunk of the population than mainstream media seems to understand, or wants to believe.
Thursday after the Broncos wrapped a joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers on the practice fields outside Levi’s Stadium, I asked John Elway for his stance on the anthem protests. Here’s what the Broncos president of football operations said: “My stance is that everybody has their right to do what they wish to do and their beliefs are their beliefs. That’s why we live in this country. They have the right to display whatever they wish to display. I think one thing — where we stand and where I stand with the Broncos — is, ‘That’s OK and we will respect that and whatever you want to do is fine with us. But the bottom line is that can’t get in the way with our main goal. And that is to compete for world championships.’
“I just don’t want that pulling away from our team. It can pull (you) away, because it does get a lot of attention. The only thing that I would say to our players is to make sure it’s not hurting your teammate. If the questions and everything — if the tenor changes of what goes on in these interviews and you’re not talking about our next opponent, you’re talking about what’s going on in the world — that’s not the best thing for our football team.”
I thought it was a fair and honest answer. Elway obviously has put some thought into the matter, since Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall knelt during the anthem last season. Elway said he was “proud” of Marshall for his follow-through, particularly in Marshall's work with Denver Police.
“Brandon made a point last year,” Elway said. “But, you know what, he carried it forward. He just didn’t make a stand on the field before the games. He actually went out in the community and did something and talked to different people and talked to law enforcement and got involved with the community.”
Media are whiffing again. That’s the bigger issue here: How is it possible that mainstream media can live through the past election and not realize the enormous, influential power of the conservative voice? To dismiss the conservative voice is putting an agenda ahead of the truth. The Kaepernick case — a tremendously gifted athlete who is still without a job — revolves around the same thing that runs everything in sports.
Money. The NFL is a business, and the franchise that signs Kaepernick (I think and hope that one will, in part because the issue has been more divisive than unifying) is at risk of offending, even alienating, a sizable portion of its fanbase. My first inclination that media are detached from a big chunk of their readership on Kaepernick sprung to mind last October. I wrote way back then that Kaepernick’s protests were the No. 1 reason for a decline in the NFL’s TV ratings. There were lots of factors, of course, because there are always lots of factors, from cord cutting to conflicts with presidential debates to a barrage of penalty flags to, well, you name it. I think even Peyton Manning’s retirement was a factor. People love them some Peyton.
But when I wrote the protests were the leading reason some fans — emphasis on some — were tuning out, I got laughed out of the Broncos media room, as if the vast majority of media don't think that way, so who in their right mind would think that way? Well, looky here: According to a recent survey by J.D. Power, the anthem protests were the No. 1 reason for the ratings decline.
The media bubble is a real and troubling thing.
This isn’t complicated, racist or motivated by anything other than what these decisions are usually motivated by — money. Why would an NFL owner risk revenue when half their fanbase thinks Kaepernick has disrespected the American flag? He’s not worth the risk.
As Profootballtalk.com astutely pointed out, even the NFL commissioner’s talking points on the Kaepernick case have been adjusted to reflect the real reason Kaepernick remains unsigned. During a recent fan forum at Dove Valley, Roger Goodell told reporters, “Teams make decisions on what’s in the best interest of their team.” That’s different from Goodell’s old go-to, where he said decisions are made to “improve their team,” according to PFT.
The best interest of a team is making money. This is a business decision.
Hopefully you get what I’m saying here. It has nothing to do with my thoughts on Kaepernick and whether he should stand, kneel or do jumping jacks to warmup. Do you, man. This is about the why. Why a quarterback under the age of 30 — in a league that's ruled by quarterbacks, doesn’t have enough and won’t sign one who has played in a Super Bowl — is unemployed. The why seems obvious. There's no conspiracy. It’s a business, and media are whiffing again.