LeSean McCoy’s voice was barely audible over the din of the Bills' locker room. But the running back’s message was direct and unmistakable: Colin Kaepernick simply isn’t worth the trouble.
Asked Thursday for his take on NFL players choosing to sit during the national anthem, McCoy brought up Kaepernick unsolicited, saying: “I think, maybe, they can choose a better platform to state their beliefs.”
He then went on to dismiss the notion that the former NFL starting quarterback-turned-social-justice-warrior is being blackballed by the league. “It’s a lot more than just he’s not on the team because he doesn’t want to stand for the national anthem,” McCoy said of Kaepernick, who has yet to be signed by a team after opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March.
And guess what? McCoy is right.
The NFL has proved time and again that talent is enough to earn players a pass, no matter their transgression, regardless if they're a distraction to their teammates and organization.
There always has been a place in the league for domestic abusers (See: Greg Hardy), repeat offenders (See: Adam Jones) and even convicted dogfighters (See: Michael Vick) because teams have long excused questionable (and sometimes illegal) behavior in their quest to build a winner.
The NFL has shown that some transgressions can still warrant a second chance in the eyes of owners and fans — so long as that player has unquestioned talent.
“I’m sure if a guy like (Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady or a guy like whoever is your favorite player – (Giants wide receiver) Odell Beckham or a guy like that – you’ll deal with that attention and play him,” McCoy said matter-of-factly. “With certain guys, it’s not worth it. It’s all what you believe in.”
He’s right again.
Had Brady taken a knee or Beckham raised a fist — as did McCoy’s little-known teammate, offensive tackle Cameron Jefferson, whose silent gesture in protest of racial inequality came before the Bills’ preseason game against the Eagles Thursday night — they’d still have their jobs. Kaepernick, meanwhile, is still waiting for a call that likely will never come.
The spotlight’s glare awaits any team that signs him going forward. Counterprotests and, perhaps, a divided locker room could also be on the horizon.
But the movement Kaepernick created is now bigger than him, and the NFL must come to terms with that and address it. White players like Seth DeValve, Chris Long and Justin Britt publicly supported their African-American teammates in recent days, either by kneeling alongside them or resting a hand on a teammate’s shoulder in solidarity. The conversation surrounding social justice is growing and it will continue to spill onto the sideline.
League executives, coaches and scouts have mentioned Kaepernick’s waning talent to me, adding that a team would have to change its entire offense just to account for the quarterback’s specific skill set. And frankly, they asked, who wants to go through all of that for a backup quarterback? But one thing those football minds — and McCoy — failed to do was name-drop all the other marginally talented quarterbacks who, by virtue of their on-field limitations, handcuff their offensive coordinators on a weekly basis.
Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick in 2014, is on the verge of losing his job to perennial backup Chad Henne. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 13-year veteran, crashed and burned with the Jets in 2016 and is now backing up Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay. Josh McCown, who is 2-20 as a starter over the past three seasons and 18-42 in 60 career starts, is now the new Fitzpatrick, competing with Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty for the Jets’ job.
You know what else was a distraction? “Tebowmania” in Florham Park, N.J.
The Jets traded for Tim Tebow in March 2012, set up chairs for 200-plus media members to hear the backup quarterback’s introductory press conference inside their fieldhouse, prepared top-secret Wildcat packages for the former Heisman Trophy winner, and then watched as Tebow completed only six passes for 39 yards and rushed 32 times for 102 yards in 12 games.
Teams will make allowances (and excuses) for players when necessary. So why should Kaepernick be any different?
“This is a lot going on with this whole Kaepernick situation,” McCoy said Thursday.
And he’s right.
Kaepernick’s situation is complicated. Race relations in this country are complex. And the sight of white supremacists and members of the KKK gathering in broad daylight without their white hoods is proof that the climate of America is tense and wrought with deep-seated emotion.
Kaepernick will never represent the perfect symbol of protest. His hair, an unapologetic afro, his decision to not vote in last year's presidential election and to wear a Fidel Castro shirt and socks that depicted pigs wearing police hats will always be a sticking point — a distraction, if you will — from his core message of equality for all Americans and his opposition to the oppression of people of color.
“I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed,” Kaepernick said a year ago, explaining his decision to kneel during the playing of the national anthem before the 49ers’ preseason games. “…If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
On Thursday, McCoy acknowledged individuals’ right to free speech. And he, too, exercised that right in 2015, when he implied the roster moves made by his former Eagles coach, Chip Kelly, were racially motivated.
But whether you agree with McCoy's Kaepernick hot take, he still managed to pull back the curtain on the NFL’s sad reality.
“I’m sure a lot of teams wouldn’t want him as their starting quarterback,” he said of Kaepernick. “That chaos that comes along with it, it’s a lot. … There’s certain players that could be on the team with big distractions, and there’s other players that it’s not good enough or not worth it. I think his situation is not good enough to have him on the team with all the attention that comes along with it.”