RENTON, Wash. – Halfway through an extended chat with Richard Sherman this week, the loquacious Seattle Seahawks cornerback turned the table.
He wanted to ask a question. Always better when these interviews become two-way exchanges.
“So what do you think about Colin Kaepernick?” Sherman asked.
Oh, I’m thinking plenty.
That Kaepernick, who once quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl, still hasn’t been signed by an NFL team is quite the travesty. He’s paying a serious price – and fueling more debate – for the social statement in the name of injustice last year that sparked a movement and intense backlash.
Yes, he’s being blackballed, plain and simple. Look at the lesser-skilled QBs who found teams.
Let Sherman take it from here.
“The funny thing about it, when you’re not being blackballed, you don’t have to say he’s not being blackballed,” Sherman told USA TODAY Sports. “When football’s a safe game, you don’t have to say, ‘Football’s a safe game.’ It seems like the Commissioner always has to say things to justify something.
“But you didn’t even do this with Mike Vick. Vick came back and (eventually) got a $100 million deal.”
Of the handful of topics that Sherman addressed in a hallway interview at team headquarters following a practice this week, nothing ignited his passion like Kaepernick. That’s hardly surprising.
Kaepernick – being considered by the Baltimore Ravens amid a report, later denied by the team, that owner Steve Bisciotti may represent resistance while GM Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh want to sign the quarterback – is still the most striking hot-button issue in the NFL at the moment.
And there is probably no better person to gauge the pulse of players around the league than Sherman, a sharp, thoughtful man whose high profile has been bolstered by his willingness to speak his mind.
“What is it about?” Sherman said. “It’s not about football or color. It’s about, ‘Boy, stay in your place.’
“He played in Chip (Kelly)’s system last year and went 16-4 (TD-to-INT ratio) on a bad team. He played well because he’s a good football player. He may not be the best, but he’s better than a lot of these dudes starting.”
Sherman, an all-pro entering his seventh NFL season and member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, doesn’t merely question owners, GMs or the commissioner for how the Kaepernick saga has played out. He thinks fellow NFL players – many of whom he believe share his sentiments – need to speak up, too.
“Not a lot of guys are willing to step out there,” he said. “So the guys not speaking up for him are doing him a disservice. There should be a lot more guys saying something. Most guys are like, ‘I don’t want my job to end up the same way.’
“Mike B, speaks up,” he added, referring his teammate, defensive end Michael Bennett, “but on our team it’s like, ‘They’re a bunch of hippies over there.’ “
Bennett indeed has a strong opinion on Kaepernick.
“I think it shows the racial divide in the league,” Bennett told USA TODAY Sports. “There are (accused) rapists and drunk drivers in the league. But he’s somebody who didn’t do anything to anybody. But you hear owners say, ‘We have to ask our fan base first.’ But the Giants kept Josh Brown (amid a domestic violence issue). Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of rape twice. The organization didn’t turn their back on him. They gave him a contract extension. Kaepernick didn’t do anything. That’s why racism is the biggest issue in America.”
Sherman admits to being a bit baffled that the Seahawks didn’t sign Kaepernick when they brought him in for a visit a few weeks ago. He thought Kaepernick would have been a great fit, but now when considering football issues – Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is dealing with a back injury and backup quarterback Ryan Mallett is underwhelming – the Ravens are seemingly an even better fit.
Yet Baltimore has moved slowly, with Bisciotti seeking input from fans and others – including Ray Lewis, whom the franchise stuck behind when he was accused of murder and wound up pleading guilty to an obstruction of justice charge – to gauge the acceptance level for Kaepernick.
In Sherman’s eyes, this – on the heels of New York Giants co-owner John Mara maintaining during the offseason that he has received intense feedback from fans denouncing Kaepernick – advances the blackball theory.
“For you to say you have to check with sponsors and fans because this guy took a knee and made a statement?” Sherman said. “Now if you told me this guy threw eight pick-sixes last year and played like a bum, had no talent, that’s one thing. But Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett or whoever is playing for the Jets right now – whoever is starting for the Jets is terrible – have jobs. You’re telling me fans would rather you lose and put a worse player out there because a guy took a stand? That’s where it’s so troublesome to me.”
Sherman cited a few examples, including the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Blake Bortles and the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, as starters that don’t measure up to Kaepernick.
“Blake Bortles has shown you enough to where you don’t think Kaep would be a solid fit?” Sherman added. “Kaep has won games.”
Sherman realizes that some may wonder why he so passionate in speaking up for Kaepernick, who for years was a bitter division rival. The Seahawks advanced to Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, in fact, when Sherman intercepted a Kaepernick pass in the end zone to seal the victory in the NFC title game.
“We’ve been rivals,” Sherman said. “But it goes beyond football. On the field, I’m an adversary. Off the field, we’re cool. Cordial. You just don’t ever want anything like this to happen to anybody. It’s unfair. He’s out there sacrificing for more people than himself.”