If quarterback Colin Kaepernick was gay and came out publicly, as opposed to protesting the national anthem, would he still have a job?
“The main thing is, no one wants the distraction. Is this guy good enough to bring in and be a distraction? I would say maybe if your guy got hurt. Maybe he’d be a guy we’d bring in. But, one, he’d be a distraction. Two, you’ve got to change everything you do on offense. …
“Teams are pretty sophisticated. We have Twitter people who give us that stuff. They’re not real fired up on that. Who are you going to offend? You’re going to offend half your fan base? Anywhere you go, you’re going to offend the police. Miami, you’re going to offend the Cuban community, with him wearing the Castro shirt. It’s a lot of [stuff]. It’s not just one thing.”
Ugh, the dreaded “D” word — distraction. I’ve come to despise that word in the years of running Outsports, since it’s the one most trotted out to justify gay athletes staying in the closet. It’s now being used by some in the NFL to justify not signing Kaepernick.
The distraction argument has always struck me as lame when applied to gay athletes. Players and coaches are told all the time they have to overcome and fight through distractions and tune out the noise.
The NFL’s ultimate prize — the Super Bowl — is nothing but a giant distraction in the week leading up to the game. Yet all 32 teams lust to be a part of that distraction. Focus, players are told, on the one goal: winning.
The idea that a team would dissolve into a helpless heap if one of their own came out as gay as always struck me as a false argument. And it’s one not borne out by the experiences of numerous high school, college and even a few pro male team athletes.
The Brooklyn Nets were so distracted by Jason Collins coming out that they signed him as a bench player in 2014 and made the playoffs.
The St. Louis Rams were so distracted when Michael Sam came out in 2014 that they drafted him and then set up a separate table at training camp solely to sell his jersey.
And offensive lineman Scott Frantz’s Kansas State football team was so distracted after he came out to them in 2016 that they won a bowl game in which Frantz outplayed Myles Garrett, his opponent that day, who went on to be the NFL’s top draft pick.
A distraction? Hardly. I think it’s the same with Kaepernick, yet it’s the term being used by teams too afraid of potential blowback. I don’t think Kaepernick is being blackballed in the sense that all 32 teams are refusing to sign him. Some teams clearly don’t need a quarterback or don’t think Kaepernick is good enough.
Others, though, who could use a capable quarterback are steering clear of Kaepernick for the same reasons I think some teams steered clear of Sam prior to the 2014 draft — they either don’t want a player of “his kind” on the team (gay in Sam’s case, unpatriotic in Kaepernick’s) or don’t want to have to deal with what they perceived would be a P.R. challenge.
Just like with Sam, I think this is nonsense. Kaepernick has reportedly said he will stand for the anthem this season, and any media attention will fade quickly, especially if he’s a backup and not seeing much playing time. This is exactly what happened with Sam once he was signed by the Rams — a flurry of attention that pretty quickly died down.
To answer my original question — if Kaepernick was gay as opposed to having sat for the national anthem, would he still have a job? I don’t know. I know it sounds like a cop-out but experience has shown it’s best to be leery of predictions in these cases. The NFL is a conservative organization not known for being progressive (former QB Chris Simms predicted last December that Kaepernick wouldn’t have a job this season).
It would be easier if Kaepernick was still a bona fide starter, the same way if would have been easier had Sam been the next Von Miller. Otherwise, it’s easy to take no action and fall back on the player being a “distraction” as a cover for unspoken reasons. Same as it ever was.