Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
The NFL almost made it through an entire season with fans only talking about football. Sure, the Antonio Brown saga created some flair ups in the early going this season, but that hubbub quickly passed as the Pats put paid to Brown’s season, continuing to win big without him.
The season churned on. Injuries to top players including Ben Roethlisberger, JJ Watt, and Patrick Mahomes drew headlines and discussion, but all the talk was about on-field issues for the first time in years. Millions of fans quietly hoped it would stay that way, but it was not to be.
For some reason that has yet to be revealed, the NFL chose to drop a grenade into what was shaping up to be a season that saw fans returning in droves. That grenade’s name is Kaerpernick. No player in recent memory – in any sport – is as controversial as Colin Kaepernick is to the NFL. Fans that hate him are intensely vocal, and they voted with their wallets in droves when he continued his now-infamous kneeling protests.
There were, in fact, many fans who lauded Kaepernick’s protests, as well as many players, but these supporters could not compete with the avalanche of anger and derision piled on the League at the thought of Kaepernick ever playing in the NFL again. Even the President of the United States weighed in.
Thus, when the announcement that the NFL would hold a unique mid-season private workout for Kaepernick hit the news wires, fans erupted with instant, vociferous disdain. They made it clear, again, that they did not want to see him back in the NFL. And, once again, supporters cheered, including several current NFL players who had been quiet about the protests this season. And, while there is no word from Kaep as to whether or not he will continue his protests if a team hires him, the barely-cooled acrimony around his name is white hot once again.
On a recent episode of the ESPN sports talk program “Get Up,” one of the announcers said this move was a PR win for the League, no matter what happens, and a more than likely a loss for Kaepernick. They argued that, by making the invitation for a workout, the league looks magnanimous. And, if Kaepernick doesn’t perform lights out, team reps can summarily dismiss him as “not ready” to play. Either way, they come out smelling like roses. That’s a tough analysis to find fault with.
Meanwhile, if Kaepernick does do well and is signed – a long shot, the analyst suggested – he comes back to a League where the vocal majority of fans will not want him. Given that, if he “shuts up and plays” as critics suggested he do before, in order to quiet those critics, does he lose his fan base that celebrated the protest? That’s a difficult question to answer, so it’s definitely not a steady foundation on which to stand.