The fallout from the Colin Kaepernick workout this weekend landed oddly on ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith. He ripped Kaepernick’s stunt Sunday and yesterday, initially declaring that Kaepernick doesn’t really want to play and then arguing that the QB had “eradicated all his points.” In a debate with colleague Max Kellerman, Smith maintained that argument while Kellerman took Kaepernick’s side — which resulted in an avalanche of criticism aimed at Smith:
Stephen A. Smith may be the best-known and highest-paid employee in the history of ESPN, but Black Twitter is having a love affair with Max Kellerman because of his views supporting exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick. …
Smith, who is supportive of the social issues that Kaepernick first began to kneel for — including police brutality and judicial injustice — said he does not believe that Kaepernick wants to play in the NFL anymore. He also says he believes that Kaep, 32, is more invested in being a “martyr” than a player in the league.
Kellerman, who articulated persuasively that he is aware of his “white privilege,” said he is using his vast platform to “speak truth” to the flagrant injustices perpetrated against Kaepernick — especially when one understands that Kaepernick has never violated any U.S. laws. Kaepernick has also never broken any team rules or NFL regulations.
The segment with Smith and Kellerman was more nuanced than this side-taking assessment allows, but it’s true that Smith was more impassioned with his criticism for Kaepernick than the NFL. The reaction to this — that somehow Smith had sold out, for lack of a better description — generated this eruption today on ESPN’s First Take.
Sitting with Kellerman again, Smith told audiences that he had been in close contact with Kaepernick’s team for months and had sympathy for his cause. At first, Smith just pointed out that Kaepernick had signed an identical waiver eight years ago with the league, disputing that this was anything more than a pretext for the QB’s publicity stunt. That got Smith wound up enough to uncork a several-minutes-long rant, defending his record and his right to call out Kaepernick:
When I sit up there, and I sat here yesterday, and I spoke about how his points are eradicated, I’m not talking about the kneeling. I’m not talking about the protesting. I’m a black man, you idiots! You think I have a problem with a man that is kneeling and protesting racial oppression and police brutality? Do you know anything about my history in 25 years in this damn business? From The New York Daily News to the Philadelphia Inquirer to CNN to Fox to ESPN. Do you have any idea about my damn background and the fights that I have taken on the behalf of African Americans throughout this nation’s history? Do you have any idea who the hell you are talking about?
Interestingly, Kellerman comes back with the “white privilege” argument that he made yesterday, which Smith acknowledges but doesn’t accept as the main issue. “I wasn’t talking about the kneeling, I wasn’t talking about the protests,” Smith says preceding the interjection about the points Kaepernick eradicated:
I was saying your proclamation that you desperately wanted back in the National Football League, from your camp, that you wanted the opportunity to be employed by the NFL again and to play football, I said your actions Saturday got in the way of it. You can debate the waiver all you want to. For all I — I don’t know whether it’s true or not. I have it, I’m not disputing it. That’s for the NFL to do, for Colin Kaepernick’s people to do — we’re going to be fair-minded, we’re going to point at both sides based on the information we have available to us. What I am saying is, at the end of the day, here’s what doesn’t matter. If you show up to a workout with a Kunta Kinte T-shirt on, if you have the workout after bucking their offer on Saturday, then you have the press conference after where you take no questions, but you’re looking into the cameras and you’re antagonizing the NFL to tell them to stop running, that we all know the truth, etc etc, what you’re doing is getting in the way of your own aspiration to get back in[.]
Kellerman then goes on to defend the t-shirt, among other things, but he’s missing Smith’s point — and probably Kaepernick’s, too. One does not have to have much sympathy for the NFL to know that those stunts made it clear that Kaepernick is more interested in activism than in athleticism. And that’s not a problem if that’s his choice — others have made it before and will do so again — but don’t pretend that the only aspiration Kaepernick has is to play football again. Based on his actions this weekend, it might not even be in his top three.
Smith is entertaining as always, but he’s also right as usual.