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ESPN star Stephen A. Smith on Tuesday called Colin Kaepernick’s pursuit of coming back into the NFL, even if he has to work as a backup quarterback, “utter nonsense.”
Smith got the last word on ESPN’s “First Take” and said he was “sick” of the conversation about Kaepernick potentially getting back into the league after being out since 2016. The longtime commentator made clear he supported Kaepernick from the time he and the 49ers parted ways to the time he was set to work out for NFL teams during the 2019 season before a waiver issue ended the league-sponsored session.
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“I want to make sure I’m very, very clear about this because this has gotten on my last nerve and I’m going to put this to bed once and for all. Colin Kaepernick was black-balled. Colin Kaepernick was mistreated. Colin Kaepernick should be in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick should have never been out of the NFL. He violated no laws. He violated no NFL bylaws,” Smith said. “He got screwed over. Period.
“How many times do we need to say that before Colin Kaepernick is willing to accept the fact you gotta handle things differently and what do I mean by that? I’m not talking about the kneeling. I’m not talking about the protesting because that’s on behalf of us and there’s a level of graciousness and gratitude we all owe him. Black people, as far as I’m concerned, America, owes this to Colin Kaepernick. But that was from 2016 to 2019.”
What Smith appeared to take issue with was Kaepernick allegedly not taking any of the help he was given and failing to take advantage of it.
“In 2019, after you filed a lawsuit against the National Football League, after you reached a multimillion-dollar settlement, after you made it clear you don’t have any trust for them and they made it clear they have no trust for you, because of pressure from Jay-Z, who is obviously advising the NFL on social justice issues and things of that nature, along with a multitude of people inside and outside of the media and you’re listening to one of them because I spoke to many people on behalf of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL said we’re gonna conduct a workout. And Colin Kaepernick refused to workout because of some waiver issue, some liability issue,” Smith said.
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“At the end of the day, what are you saying, Colin Kaepernick, you didn’t trust them? Well, duh! We know you didn’t trust them. They didn’t trust you because they felt like if an individual team, none of whom called you by the way, if an individual team gave you a workout that you would sit up there, if you don’t make the team, they were saying you might sit up there and accuse us of being racist because they didn’t pick you on the team so as a result we can’t trust you either. Both sides don’t trust one another. Who the hell don’t know that?
“And still, you took the position, regardless of Jay-Z’s help, regardless of the media’s help, regardless of public fury against the National Football League knowing everybody was going to be all over them, watching them like a fine-tooth comb, you still didn’t trust anybody. You want to listen to your lady and your Colin Kaepernick crew and you wanted to debunk everybody else, and here you are having a conversation about football.
“My brother, you ain’t played in five years. We don’t know what you can do but we still believe in you. I believe Colin Kaepernick could be on an NFL team right now and help a team despite being gone for five years because I think he’s that gifted. That ain’t the point!”
Smith said, as a result, those in charge don’t want to have Kaepernick on the team.
“The point is coaches, players and executives all answer to owners of those respective football teams and they don’t want to touch you. And you knew that and the one in, you refused to exploit. I understand your point about not trusting them, hell we don’t trust them. But we were willing to fight for you, you didn’t want to listen to anybody. And now the NFL is saying, ratings are up 10% from the year before. Super Bowl ratings were up 6%. We got some of the best numbers since 2015, that’s without Colin Kaepernick. Why would we invite this trouble? Who didn’t know they were gonna do that? Who didn’t warn Colin Kaepernick they weren’t gonna do that?
“That’s why we told you. Go work out. Show what you can do and let the momentum build to force their hand. But you didn’t wanna play. You didn’t wanna talk. And that’s why you’re still doing interviews instead of throwing touchdowns.”
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Kaepernick said in a recent podcast interview he “absolutely” wants to play in the NFL again and is even willing to return to the league as a backup quarterback if that helps his comeback chances.
“Five years of training behind the scenes,” Kaepernick told former NFL stars Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson, and Pacman Jones during an interview with the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast that aired Monday. “You don’t do that if you don’t have a passion, and you don’t believe you’re gonna find a way on that field.”
“I know I have to find my way back in. So yeah. If I have to come in as a backup, that’s fine,” he said. “But that’s not where I’m staying. And when I prove that I’m a starter, I want to be able to step on the field as such. I just need that opportunity to walk through the door.”
Kaepernick last played in the NFL in 2016, the same year he started kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice. Asked why owners and general managers should buy that he would make their locker room better and not be a distraction, Kaepernick argued that the league now pledges to support similar issues he advocated for in the past.
“You have ‘End Racism’ in the back of your end zone. You have ‘Black Lives Matter’ on your helmet. Everything I’ve said should be in alignment with what you’re saying publicly,” Kaepernick said. “It’s a $16 billion business. When I first took a knee, my jersey went to No. 1. When I did the deal with Nike, their value increased by $6 billion. Six billion. With a B.
“So if you’re talking about the business side, it shows beneficial. If you’re talking about the playing side, come in, [and] let me compete. You can evaluate me from there,” he added. “The NFL is supposed to be a meritocracy. Come in, let me compete. If I’m not good enough, get rid of me. But let me come in and show you.”
Kaepernick has since been working out with NFL players to showcase his talent. He had a meeting with the Seattle Seahawks in previous years, but a contract never came to fruition.
Kaepernick threw for 12,271 yards and 72 touchdowns over six seasons with San Francisco. He was the starting quarterback in Super Bowl XLVII, which the 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens.
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“I’ve been to the Super Bowl,” Kaepernick said, noting he was one play away from an NFL championship. “I need to finish that.”
Fox News’ David Aaro contributed to this report.