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In light of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Colin Kaepernick has been thrust back into the national spotlight. Barring Drew Brees’ comments about kneeling during the national anthem, there’s been plenty of praise for the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. Pete Carroll recently joined in that chorus, speaking on a podcast with Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr.

While the Seattle Seahawks coach said that “we owe a tremendous amount” to Kaepernick, those words conflict with one reality from the past. Carroll and the Seahawks didn’t sign the quarterback when they had the chance.

The rise and fall of Colin Kaepernick

Now that several years have passed, it’s easy to look at Colin Kaepernick as nothing more than the quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem. At one point, though, he seemed destined for NFL stardom.

Although Kaepernick showed plenty of potential on the baseball diamond in high school, he decided to focus on football. That decision brought him to the University of Nevada, where he accumulated 10,098 passing yards, 4,112 rushing yards, and 141 total touchdowns during his time under center.

When the 2011 NFL draft rolled around, the San Francisco 49ers traded up to select Kaepernick in the second round. He began his career sitting behind Alex Smith but got his chance when the starter suffered a concussion in 2012; Kapernick stepped into the breach and led the club to the Super Bowl. He retained the starting job in 2013, led the team to the NFC Championship game, and seemed destined to become the NFL’s next big star.

His career, of course, would take a different path. While the quarterback signed a contract extension, San Francisco started trending in the wrong direction. Between constant coaching changes, injury issues, and a less-than-talented lineup, Kaepernick began to struggle; he even lost the starting gig to Blaine Gabbert at various points.

During the 2016 campaign, Kaepernick also began protesting during the national anthem. While he carefully laid out the framework of his beliefs, telling that he was not “going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” it still created a firestorm. When the quarterback opted out of his contract in 2016, that reality prevented him from landing another NFL job.

Pete Carroll has plenty of praise for Colin Kaepernick

In light of George Floyd’s death and the wave of protests around the United States, Colin Kaepernick’s actions have been thrust back into the spotlight. His protests, for example, recently came up on The Ringer’s “Flying Coach” podcast.

Speaking with Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carrol had nothing but praise for Kaepernick. “I think that there was a moment in time that a young man captured. He took a stand on something, figuratively took a knee, but he stood up for something he believed in — and what an extraordinary moment it was that he was willing to take,” he explained, according to ESPN.

“And the whole mission of what the statement was, such a beautiful,” Carroll continued. “It’s still the statement that we’re making right today. We’re not protecting our people [and] we’re not looking after one another. We’re not making the right choices, we’re not following the right process to bring people to justice when actions are taken. So I think it was a big sacrifice in the sense that a young man makes, but those are the courageous moments that some guys take.”

Pete Carroll’s words are nice, but he didn’t act when he had the chance

If you take Pete Carroll’s words in isolation, they seem like a pretty solid statement of support for Kaepernick. When you consider the broader context, however, they ring a bit hollow.

In 2017, the Seahawks brought Kaepernick in for a visit but declined to sign him. At the time, Carroll explained that Kaepernick was too good to join the team. “He’s a starter in this league, you know. And we have a starter,” the coach said, according to the News Tribune. The club circled back to Kaepernick in 2018, but, as noted by ESPN, canceled his visit when he didn’t commit to ceasing his protest.

On those two occasions, though, Pete Carroll didn’t offer Colin Kaepernick a job. Even if you want to argue that the head coach couldn’t force the Seahawks to sign a player or that the quarterback wasn’t willing to be a backup, Carroll didn’ effusively praise Kaepernick’s actions, or commend his courage. He “stuck to sports,” noted that the quarterback was a pretty good player, and moved on.

“We owe a tremendous amount to him for sure,” Carroll said on “Flying Coach.” That’s a great sentiment, but talk, especially years after the fact, is cheap.

All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference and Pro-Football-Reference


Before Colin Kaepernick, There Was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Who Shunned the National Anthem