Colin Kaepernick faced harsh criticism Saturday after blowing off his chance to impress NFL scouts and instead performing for the media at a racially charged alternative event.
The 32-year-old quarterback has long alleged that the league is blackballing him because he knelt during that national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality against African Americans. But after finally negotiating a tryout in front of 25 teams at the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility, he canceled at the last minute.
His representatives cited the NFL’s demand that their client sign a liability waiver as the dealbreaker.
Kaepernick, 32, later showed up at an Atlanta area high school wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Kunta Kinte,” the name of a fictional American slave made famous by the 1977 “Roots” TV miniseries.
After demonstrating he still has some football skills, Kaepernick addressed the assembled journalists. He thanked them for supporting him and said he had changed venues so they could be there.
“Our biggest thing with everything today was making sure we had transparency with what went on. We weren’t getting that elsewhere, so we came out here,” he said. “I’ve been ready for three years, I’ve been denied for three years. We all know why.”
“So we’re waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams and [league commissioner] Roger Goodell to stop running. Stop running from the truth, stop running from the people,” he added.
Supporters of Kaepernick and his social justice activism praised him for defying the NFL once again.
NFL columnist Mike Freeman said on Twitter Saturday that Kaepernick’s workout proved once and for all that NFL teams are discriminating again him.
“Bottom line with Kaepernick’s workout is this: it demonstrated why there isn’t, never was, and never will be a FOOTBALL reason for him to be out of the NFL. Not one,” Freeman said.
“His arm. And his conscience. And his voice. If they want the arm, they have to take the rest. They don’t want that. They want silence and profits,” tweeted director Ava DuVernay.
Meanwhile, critics accused Kaepernick of revealing that he is more interested in attention than football, or racial equality. The backlash was led by a number of black commentators.
Jason Whitlock, a Fox Sports 1 host, tweeted Saturday that outside of social media: “In the real, world, Kap is seen as a lost soul with serious identity issues. Today was a final straw for objective, rational people. #Clownshow.”
Kap has a small, loud, militant following. They exist exclusively via social media. In the real world, Kap is seen as a lost soul with serious identity issues. Today was a final straw for objective, rational people. #Clownshow
— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) November 16, 2019
In a series of tweets Sunday, screenwriter Curtis Scoon mocked Kaepernick for feigning “Empowerment through victimization.” In one tweet, Scoon shared a photo of the quarterback with the white family that adopted and raised him.
“Colin ‘Kunta Kinte’ Kaepernick back when home was a ‘plantation’ and his family were ‘slave masters,'”he joked.
Colin “Kunta Kinte” Kaepernick back when home was a “plantation” and his family were “slave masters.” pic.twitter.com/CwE0qgzKj1
— Curtis Scoon (@CurtisScoon) November 17, 2019
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith on Sunday posted a video to Twitter, saying: “He don’t wanna play. He wants to be a martyr.”
Smith, whose take earned him racially charged backlash, predicted that if Kaepernick had performed at the scheduled tryout, he would have “had a job inside of two weeks.”
He doesn't want to play. pic.twitter.com/ZuSI1IVW9r
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) November 17, 2019
The NFL says it’s ‘disappointed’
Kaepernick’s representatives moved the workout after accusing the NFL of not acting in a forthright manner in organizing the workout.
“From the outset, Mr. Kaepernick requested a legitimate process and from the outset the NFL league office has not provided one,” they said in a statement.
“Most recently, the NFL has demanded that as a precondition to the workout, Mr. Kaepernick sign an unusual liability waiver that addresses employment-related issues and rejected the standard liability waiver from physical injury proposed by Mr. Kaepernick’s representatives.”
Kaepernick also had requested all media be allowed into the workout to observe and film it, but the NFL denied the request, the statement said.
The NFL said it was informed of Kaepernick’s decision 30 minutes before the workout was to begin.
“We are disappointed that Colin did not appear for his workout,” the league said in a statement, adding it had made considerable effort to work cooperatively with Kaepernick’s representatives.
Before the move, both protesters and supporters had waited for Kaepernick outside the Falcons’ facility.
One protester, waving a U.S. flag, held a sign that said “Colin Kaepernick un-American Loser. Get out of my town.”
Supporters included one follower wearing a Kaepernick jersey and displaying a sign that read “I’m with Kap.”
Taking a knee
Among the first players to kneel during the pregame U.S. national anthem in protest against extrajudicial killings of black people by police, Kaepernick has been unable to find a team to sign him since 2017.
A second-round draft choice in 2011, he played with the 49ers for six seasons, leading them to the 2013 Super Bowl and the National Football Conference title game the next season.
During the third preseason game in 2016 he began sitting during the U.S. anthem.
The following week and during regular season, Kaepernick began kneeling as protest against social injustice.
He became a free agent after the 2016 season and remains unsigned.
Kaepernick filed a collusion grievance against NFL owners in October 2017 after going unsigned as a free agent. The two sides resolved the grievance in February under a confidentiality agreement.
(Reuters contributed to this report)