Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick protests and gets the starting job.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, October 11, 2016, 6:54 PM
So the “friction” never tore apart the San Francisco locker room, and things were never “very disruptive” for 49er players. The sky never fell down in San Fran, even if Colin Kaepernick didn’t play the part of the good little backup quarterback and stay silent.
So one month later, Trent Dilfer was officially wrong in all his criticisms of Kaepernick, the newly minted starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, and one month later, all NFL players should realize that they can — and should — speak their minds on issues of social injustice.
Because one month later, Colin Kaepernick is a starting quarterback, something Niners coach Chip Kelly announced Tuesday when he ousted starter Blaine Gabbert after a 1-4 start. He’ll make his first start against the Buffalo Bills and (who else?) loud-mouthed Donald Trump supporter Rex Ryan. And this comes down to one thing and one thing only, the Niners need help at quarterback, and Kaepernick, who has received death threats and seen his jersey burned for his protest of the national anthem, is the best man for the job.
It was a move that instantly (and finally) dispels one of the most mind-numbing criticisms of Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, erasing the idea that he was somehow destroying his team by drawing attention to a real issue. Dilfer powered that chorus in early September, when he’d insisted that Kaepernick was doing his club a disservice by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to protest police brutality and black oppression.
“I believe it’s an evolving situation for one,” the former QB and current ESPN analyst said. “. . . I do believe there was some, if not a little, a lot of friction (in San Francisco).
“I do believe there was evidence at a time where it was very disruptive,” he added, “where it made it much harder for the team. It seems like everyone’s put a bow on this, and it’s all farts and giggles now. That’s not the case.”
Except there has never been any sign of mutiny or discontent in San Francisco — not a month ago and certainly not now. There wasn’t even a hint of disruption over the last few weeks, not even an anonymous quote from a player or Niners exec.
There was little sign of a true front office agenda to keep the quarterback from returning to the spotlight. When he began his protest, some speculated it could lead Kelly to cut him, and others said Kelly’s recent suggestion that Kaepernick wasn’t yet “100%” was a convenient way to keep him from starting.
(Nils Nilsen/Getty Images)
Yet here we are with Kaepernick back as the starter, a move that Kelly says was purely a “football decision,” and a move that makes Dilfer’s criticism look downright silly. His was a one-dimensional characterization of the NFL locker room, one that suggests team chemistry can only work if everyone buries personal pursuits in favor of the team.
That characterization has long led players — especially backups — to be silent in a league in which just a handful of stars are irreplaceable. It’s a characterization of the NFL that seemingly makes it dangerous for players to hold unpopular stances on social issues, part of the reason so few spoke out before Kaepernick spawned a movement in August.
But one month later, players should draw at least a little comfort from Kaepernick’s success, from how he bravely made his stand regardless of career consequences — and how he still has his NFL career intact.
There’s room for players to use their voices and their NFL platform for issues of social justice, without fear of repercussion. They need not follow the Trent Dilfer model and hide for fear that an opinion will demolish the entire team concept.
And there’s even more room and perhaps still more platform for Kaepernick to use his own voice, now that he’s reinstalled as a starter. Everyone from Ruth Bader Ginsberg to President Barack Obama to Kate Upton were already talking about Kaepernick’s protest, but he could make even more statements now, with his eye black and his cleats, perhaps, with the way he handles on-field interviews.
Now, Kaepernick, who was never going to be silenced, may find ways to amplify his voice even more.
And now, Trent Dilfer can be silent.