Saquon Barkley’s second year in the NFL should be an interesting one. After a relatively quiet first year, he is now far more open with the media. The Giants running back’s press conferences this preseason are as entertaining as they are informative.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that he stands by his recent comments supporting blackballed ex-quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Inching ever closer to being one of the new faces of the Giants doesn’t phase Barkley at all.
‘I’m not afraid to speak my mind’
It began with a retweet. Barkley shared a Kaepernick workout video with his Twitter followers. The video has a clear intent from the start, displaying a crucial stat: Kaepernick was “denied work for 889 days” up to that point. The ensuing speculation didn’t last long. When asked for comment by the New York Daily News, Barkley said, “I’m not afraid to speak my mind.”
Another Daily News reporter followed up. Barkley elaborated, “He’s not in the league not ’cause he can’t play. I mean, is that fair to him? Because of his belief or what he views?” Clearly, he has no interest in leaving room for plausible deniability. When Barkley retweets something, he stands by it.
Kaepernick finds a fierce ally in Barkley
The consequences for supporting Kaepernick are often swift and fierce. Take safety Eric Reid, who backed Kaepernick’s anthem protests. He found himself without a job despite being an immense talent in his prime. Once the Carolina Panthers picked him up in 2018, he insisted his protests would continue. Reid and Kaepernick successfully sued NFL owners for blackballing them over political views.
Circumstances are different for Barkley. Reid found a job with a desperate Panthers squad willing to court controversy. Barkley has no assurances the Giants feel the same way. Sticking his neck out on this issue in particular reveals something about Barkley’s character. He means what he says, and backs it up regardless of the risk.
Barkley’s praise in his Daily News interview was effusive: “[…]I think it’s cool he’s still working out and still waiting for his opportunity for a shot and when the shot comes, he’s showing he’s still gonna be ready for it. And as a man, I respect that.” This level of support means a great deal in a context where either sports media or the NFL could punish Barkley for it.
Is Kaepernick ready to return to the NFL?
Kaepernick is skilled enough to come back to the NFL. He is a better pick than several second-string QBs on active rosters today. The likelihood of landing on a team for the 2019-20 season in part hinges on his higher risk of declining over the season due to his age.
At 31, Kaepernick is nowhere near the sell-by date for QBs. But any NFL front office worth their salt will consider the combined factors of an aging player limited to conditioning over active play for several years straight. If the NFL is meant to be a pure skill-based meritocracy, however, he should absolutely be playing today.
The main issue is the perceived distraction of his political activism. With prominent players like Barkley at his side, Kaepernick may have a chance. Crucially, even his biggest critics are softening their hard-line stance. Take U.S. President Donald Trump. After years of hurling insults at in the press, Trump now thinks Kaepernick should play “if he’s good enough.”