Lowell Cohn: 49ers' Colin Kaepernick ignores the contradiction of his outrage

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SANTA CLARA — There Colin Kaepernick was Sunday afternoon in the 49ers locker room, a backup quarterback discussing racial injustice in America. Being the focal point of the locker room and of the team.

Funny how that works. He sits on his duff during the national anthem and he becomes national news.

Not the purpose of this column to debate the morality of Kaepernick not standing for the “Star-Spangled Banner.” He said it was an act of conscience and let’s accept his explanation, at least for the first few paragraphs of this column.

He told the media the meaning of his stand — I mean his sit. By the way, more media than usual showed up at 49ers headquarters — a media zoo — and they weren’t there to discuss football.

“Ultimately, it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country,” Kaepernick lectured. “There are a lot of things that are going on that’s unjust. People who aren’t being held accountable. And that’s something that needs to change. This country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all, and it’s not happening for all right now.”

A few days earlier he had said, “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.”

Kaepernick defended the military but expressed dislike for police: “Police brutality,” he spat out. “Cops are getting paid leave for killing people.”

He also said, “You can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people who have a gun.”

I wonder how the average policeman feels about that judgment.

Kaepernick certainly sounded sincere. There is something admirable about men and women who perform acts of conscience and accept the consequences.

Everyone is concerned about the treatment of minorities, and it’s refreshing when a famous athlete shows awareness and compassion, and makes a protest.

But my creed as a journalist always has been this: Don’t see what you’re supposed to see. See what you really see.

What Kaepernick wants me to see is a man acting from conviction. But I see other things competing with Kaepernick’s conscience, things running neck and neck with his convictions.

Kaepernick has a gripe with the United States of America, says it oppresses people of color — certainly there’s evidence. He is disgusted with our country, feels it’s morally corrupt.

OK, fair enough. But Kaepernick has benefited from our miserable, rotten society — the one he says fails so many people. Who has benefited more than Kaepernick?

He is a biracial young man who was adopted by white parents and grew up middle class in Turlock. He has been famous a long time. He is earning about $12 million this season and his skills hardly warrant that. He lives a privileged life.

It’s hypocritical to dump on a society that made you a prince, especially when you happily accepted that. It’s strange to fight for the downtrodden while you live like that prince. Kaepernick has not thought out the obvious contradictions in his position.

The mark of a young man not fully formed.

I see Kaepernick making a symbolic gesture. Symbols are vitally important. The American flag and the national anthem have meanings beyond themselves. They are indelible symbols of America.

If Kaepernick really were serious about his disdain for the status quo, he would do something beyond symbolic. He could work in a homeless shelter or give half his salary to causes aiding people of color. He said he will do things in the future. Will reveal them at the appropriate time. Really? In the context of what’s actually possible, his sitting down is an easy, low-rent gesture.

There’s more. Kaepernick is competing to be the 49ers starting quarterback with Blaine Gabbert. Think about this. Sports has many bad clichés. A top one is: “Don’t lose your focus.” A variant is: “Don’t get distracted.”

In Kaepernick’s case, these bad clichés apply. He’s in the fight of his life for a starting job and, suddenly, he’s focused on being a social activist. Before Friday’s game when he should have been thinking football, he was thinking social injustice. Total distraction.

Again, it is perfectly fine to think about social injustice. But in Kaepernick’s life now is it really the appropriate time? No, it’s the wrong time. The wrong time considering what he owed his teammates who, by the way, had to sit through a meeting Sunday morning in which he tried to promulgate his views on society. Later, his teammates had to speak about him to the media — not about football. And the season starting in two weeks. More total distraction.

It all makes you think this: At some level, Kaepernick believes he can’t cut it as a quarterback. So he’s finding a way to self-destruct whether or not he knows it. To give himself an easy way out. Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear comes to mind.

At one point, Gabbert, who has the locker next to Kaepernick’s, grabbed a container of powdered protein from his cubicle and, smiling, asked the media if we wanted some. So relaxed he was. Clearly thinking, “You own your message, Colin. I own this team.”

All this makes you wonder what is going on with Kaepernick.

How about this? Kaepernick is desperately flailing for attention. And he’s getting it. He always has been an attention junkie — all that “Kaepernicking” — kissing his bicep. He filed for a trademark for that in 2013. Quite the capitalist Kaepernick despite our corrupt system. And that “7tormscoming” hashtag I’ve never understood. Big ego. Me-firster.

He’s getting less attention for his quarterbacking.

He only started his protest this year when he was out of the headlines. Needed to find another way to get ink and air time. It’s all about him, not the team. Maybe not even about society. When asked what one thing he would change in America right now, he said, “That’s a tough question because there’s a lot of things that need to change. That’s something that it’s hard to lock down.”

Really? Not one thought yet?

It’s the attention he needs. He’s shot as an athlete. His confidence is gone, has been since last season. The Cardinals called him out, said they could intercept him if he threw outside the numbers. Proceeded to intercept him four times. His confidence probably was gone before that. He’s afraid to compete with Gabbert, is using his complaint against America as an excuse. I wonder if he even knows what he’s doing.

In spite of his diminishing returns, he’s the center of the sports world now. He is the center of hard news in America. This Kaepernick news cycle way exceeds the time the 49ers offense controlled the ball Friday night.

Again, what do I really see? I see Kaepernick grabbing the spotlight any way he can.

What Kaepernick did — he will continue to sit in future games — changes his equation with the Niners. They issued a statement defending his right to protest. You can bet it galled them to do it.

Last week, he made snotty comments about Trent Baalke. He’s doing everything he can to make himself persona non grata, to get cut or traded. Taking the focus away from football and from the team with the season fast approaching. What football team needs that?

Of course, when the 49ers get rid of him next week, Kaepernick will say, “It’s not because of my play. It’s because I took a political stance.”

He’s created a can’t-lose system for himself, a way to cushion the blow. That’s what I see.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at

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