At least somebody's still willing to take a chance on Colin Kaepernick.
EA Sports, creators of the Madden NFL video game, announced Tuesday that Kaepernick — absent from the National Football League since 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality — will be available as the top free-agent quarterback in Madden 21, even though he hasn't taken a snap in a real football game in four seasons.
Said EA Sports in a Tuesday release: "Colin Kaepernick is one of the top free agents in football and a starting-caliber quarterback. The team at EA SPORTS, along with millions of Madden NFL fans, want to see him back in our game."
Full confession: I've never played a video game in my life, though I am often in awe of how close these games — at least on commercials — appear to mimic real-life athletes. And while none of this interests me from a gaming standpoint, it is certainly interesting in other ways, given the roller-coaster ride Kaepernick's been on with his fans and detractors since first kneeling throughout the 2016 season while a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
For those with short memories, Kaepernick didn't even kneel that first night. He sat. Afterward, he told the media, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Those bodies were those of several Black citizens who lost their lives to law enforcement.
By the start of the next season, the 49ers had cut ties with the quarterback they'd once signed to a contract that could have paid him north of $100 million if all incentives were met and guaranteed him a minimum of $13 million. Kap hasn't played a down since, some believing he was blackballed. NFL agreements with EA Sports kept him out of the game as an inactive player. A later lawsuit charging the NFL of that was settled out of court.
And had 2020 never happened, if the Black Lives Matter movement hadn't soared to the top of our consciousness and consciences after the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of law enforcement — as well as the recent incident in which Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer and is now paralyzed from the waist down — Kaepernick would have probably become nothing more than a footnote, forgotten by all but his closest friends and supporters.
But 2020 has happened, and none other than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told former NFL player Emmanuel Acho on his "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man" YouTube show last month: "I wish we had listened earlier, Kap, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to."
Everyone is listening now. The NBA has painted "Black Lives Matter" on its playoff courts inside its Disney World bubble, and players have written those three words and others on the backs of their jerseys to draw attention to systemic racism.
During this weekend's NFL games, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," considered by many to be the country's Black national anthem, will be played at every venue, as well as "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Beyond that, the Big 12 conference announced Tuesday that the league's players will be wearing a social justice message on the front left of their uniforms, as well as a black Big 12-branded unity sticker on the back of their helmets. Unlike recent years, they'll also take the field prior to the national anthem, which will almost certainly lead to mass kneeling during the song.
As Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg wrote earlier this year: "Mainstream white America is going to reconsider Kaepernick at some point — the way it reconsidered Muhammad Ali years after he refused to go to Vietnam, the way it reconsidered Jackie Robinson and Jack Johnson. Progress comes in fits and starts, and this country tends to punish those who urge it to move faster. The reconsideration of Kaepernick has begun."
Whether he still has the skills to be considered more than an NFL sideshow is unknown. Four years is a long time to be inactive. And Kaepernick's star had started to fade even before his protests began.
But he also once led the Niners to the Super Bowl at the close of the 2012 season and to the NFC title game the following year. He certainly had game back then.
Besides, wouldn't the NFL benefit from having the league's best Afro back on the field?
In it's Tuesday release, EA Sports wrote: "Now's your chance to bring back Kap and be the virtual GM that signs one of the most dynamic QBs in the game."
But until or unless a real GM signs him, we'll never know if Kap's life could still imitate EA Sports' art.