In a summer that’s offered little in the way of good news, some came Tuesday in an unexpected way: EA Sports, makers of the “Madden” NFL video game franchise, revealed that Colin Kaepernick has been added to this year’s version of the game as a free agent.
There was of course the usual howling from bad-faith fighters who both hail the supposed benefits of free market capitalism but are (faux-) offended anytime a company associates with Kaepernick. For the rest of us, it was a welcome move.
It’s the first time since “Madden NFL 17” that Kaepernick has been part of the game, which was of course the last time he played in the league. Just before the game dropped on the eve of the 2016 regular season, the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback began his protest during the playing of the national anthem, silently expressing his disgust at the continued extrajudicial killings of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Team owners have made it so he hasn’t been able to pursue his playing career since.
Seeing the news initially, this writer was highly skeptical. It seemed like a public relations ploy, yet another corporation trying to parlay a passing interest in the Black Lives Matter fight into dollars — especially since twice EA Sports altered songs chosen for the game’s soundtrack to remove Kaepernick’s name from the lyrics, only to fix it after the fact.
But EA reached out to Kaepernick and in a release said the activist was on board, and had a hand in what his avatar looks like (his current glorious Afro is included, natch), so he clearly has accepted the company’s explanation and/or apology.
Since he isn’t an active player, EA had to work with Kaepernick directly; typically the game-maker negotiates with the NFL Players Association on group licensing.
While he hasn’t played in a few seasons, the EA Sports team has Kaepernick as the top-rated free agent quarterback, with an overall rating of 81, which also puts him 15th among all quarterbacks in the game, ahead of New England’s Cam Newton (79) and Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill (80), though ratings of active players will change once the season starts. EA said it factored Kaepernick’s extended layoff into his grades.
Kaepernick also had a say in his “signature celebration”: when he scores, he raises his right fist above his head, the symbol of Black power, a simple demonstration that reinforces his activist path.
The truth is, we’re probably never going to see Kaepernick in an NFL uniform again. Not long after George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody and commissioner Roger Goodell’s “we were wrong — Black lives do matter” video, there was speculation from the league’s in-house media arm that Kaepernick might, at long last, get a chance to return to the NFL.
Surprising absolutely no one, Yahoo Sports NFL writer Charles Robinson says not a single team has reached out to Kaepernick’s people in months.
At this point, Kaepernick is a hero to millions for reasons that go beyond anything he ever did during his all-too-brief career on the football field, using his platform to give voice to the voiceless, feed the hungry, educate teenagers on their rights as citizens, and soon with his publishing company, to amplify those whose work has historically been overlooked.
But it will still be fun to add him in franchise mode and see him virtually shake past defenders again.
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