Opinion

The case for Colin Kaepernick in Charlotte

First things first: We’re football fans, not football experts. There may be solid, strategic reasons why Colin Kaepernick is not on a plane to Charlotte right now to help the suddenly Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers. Perhaps coaches think the learning curve to Norv Turner’s offense is too steep for a new quarterback, or that Kaepernick’s considerable skill set doesn’t match the playbook, or even that next-in-line QB Kyle Allen is the best path toward turning this season around.

But if none of those things is certain, owner David Tepper should consider bringing Kaepernick to North Carolina, pronto.

We won’t be making a sports argument here, although if we did, it might have something to do with Kaepernick once being a high-level NFL quarterback, an NFC champion and, according to some football evaluators, more talented than at least some pedestrian quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters. Oh, he’s also fit and ready, and his agent is apparently contacting teams with quarterback issues., sources told SNY’s Chris Williamson.

There’s also a strong non-football case for Kaepernick in Charlotte. His signing would be good for the Panthers franchise, for our city and state, and especially for the NFL.

Yes, if the Panthers signed Kaepernick, some fans would be livid. They’d argue that his kneeling for the anthem was dissing the flag, although Kaepernick’s gesture is much more complex than that. They’d argue that the “pig socks” he wore at least once denigrated police officers, although Kaepernick has explained that he only meant to criticize “rogue cops.” (Still, we think that was the wrong way to go about it. ) Add to that anger a swirl of media, at least initially, and you might have a Category 5 distraction on an 0-2 team with a no-drama coach.

But the fear of the anger and circus might be worse than the reality. That’s what Nike learned when it signed Kaepernick as the lead in a 2018 ad campaign and saw a surge in revenue and customer engagement. That’s also what the Panthers learned when their Eric Reid signing last year got far less pushback than many imagined. Turns out that agree or disagree, most fans realize that athletes get to have a voice on important issues, just like the rest of us.

In fact, if you want to be a bit cynical about it all, signing Kaepernick would likely be a money-maker for the Panthers and owner David Tepper. Jersey sales would skyrocket. The Panthers might get some prime-time love from networks. And it wouldn’t be awful for the brand if the Panthers were seen worldwide as the NFL team that’s courageously pro-social justice and expression.

Charlotte, which is hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention, also could use a little boost these days to its progressive city message. Let’s not even start on North Carolina.

Mostly, signing Kaepernick would bring an end to a troubling sports injustice. We don’t know whether his continued unemployment is due to blackballing from NFL owners or a wariness from teams who don’t want the blitz of negative publicity. We do know that the knee he took helped spark more conversations this country needed to have. It led to more athletes having a voice on social issues. It prompted more teams and owners and even the NBA partnering with players to have meaningful roles in challenges facing their communities.

For that, Colin Kaepernick deserves an opportunity. Why not let it happen, finally, in Charlotte?

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