For one prominent former Jets player, Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem at a preseason game Friday night was a callous show of disrespect and a completely selfish act. For another, Kaepernick’s actions were not only understandable, but commendable.
As the public reaction to the 49ers quarterback’s controversial move played out at all levels of society, two former players with passionate feelings weighed in from diametrically opposed views. Former quarterback Boomer Esiason excoriated Kaepernick, calling him completely disrespectful and selfish. Former linebacker Bart Scott said Kaepernick evoked memories of the late boxer Muhammad Ali by having the courage of his convictions to sit.
“I cannot say it in the strongest, most direct way, that it’s an embarrassment and it’s about as disrespectful as any athlete has ever been,” Esiason said at a CBS event Tuesday in New York. Esiason is an NFL commentator, as well as a morning talk-show host for WFAN, where he also took issue with Kaepernick. “And I don’t care what the cause is. The NFL football field is not a place for somebody to further their political ambitions. Can you imagine if a player went out on the field with a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and let’s vote for (Donald) Trump? It’s the same thing.”
Kaepernick said after the game and again on Sunday that he wanted to raise awareness about perceived oppression of African-Americans and people of color in the United States. He also pointed to police brutality as a central focus of his message. Esiason took issue with that message.
“He is severely under-informed, and I welcome him to go ride in a cop car and take numerous 911 calls, going into places where guns and violence are everyday occurrences,” Esiason said. “Put on that blue (police) uniform and put the shield on and see what it’s like to put your life in harm’s way every single day, and then get back to me when you’re making $35,000 or $40,000 a year, as opposed to the $11 million he’s making.”
Esiason said he doesn’t condemn Kaepernick for having an opinion on the subject, but does take issue where he displayed it.
“It’s an NFL football field, and he’s wearing an NFL uniform,” Esiason said. “At the end of the day, if he wants to do it in a news conference, if he wants to do it and talk about it at the ESPY’s and talk about it at an event he’s having, more power to him. Those are the places you should be doing it, like LeBron James is doing it, like Carmelo Anthony is hoping to do it.
“But if Carmelo Anthony walks on the court in a Knicks uniform and starts in with this, I think it’s going to create a lot of problems,” he said. “I don’t think it’s their right to do it on a court which a team pays them millions of dollars to perform a job. I find it completely disrespectful, not only to the military, but to the men and women who wear the blue uniform and protect our cities every —— day.”
Scott took a far different view of Kaepernick’s statement, and believes there is a positive message to be gained. The former linebacker, also a CBS commentator, said Kaepernick is to be commended for what he did.
“Every guy has the right to voice his opinion and his beliefs, and I support him, like any teammate should,” Scott said. “With the death of Muhammad Ali, I think it’s raising a lot of social consciousness in athletes. This icon of humanity passed, and you reflect on his life, and as a great athlete, you want to emulate that. (Kaepernick) is doing what he can do have his voice heard to speak for a movement.”
Scott said Kaepernick’s display has already made a difference, if for no other reason than the discussion that it sparked.
“You’re asking about it. I just saw Jim Brown on NFL Network talking about it. So his message has been heard, and he’s doing exactly what he wanted to do,” Scott said. “Everything starts with conversation. We can’t change anything unless we agree to disagree or agree to agree. He’s sparked conversation, so mission accomplished.”
Scott said it’s “always the right time to fight for justice and to fight for what you believe in. It’s not equal justice and liberty for all. To stand up for what you believe in, to be willing to take the lumps and hits for what you believe in, I think he should be commended.”
Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, CBS’ lead broadcaster, understood Kaepernick’s actions at some level.
“That’s his right,” Simms said. “It’s like, ‘OK, you made a statement, now live with it.’ Would I sit down during the national anthem and do that? Of course, I wouldn’t. To do something that drastic, he had to have been thinking about it for a long time. I would assume he knew the response he would get.”
But Simms said fans, many of whom have expressed contempt for Kaepernick’s display, will be quick to forget if the quarterback plays well.
“If Colin Kaepernick gets on the field and he produces,” Simms said, “people will forgive. They move on in sports and in life.”