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Renée Graham

The NFL shuns Kaepernick’s protest, but has no problem with domestic assault

Colin Kaepernick and Nessa attended the 2017 Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center last month. ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

If Colin Kaepernick had assaulted a woman instead of protesting against racial injustice, he might still have a job in the NFL.

As a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick almost led his team to an epic comeback Super Bowl victory in 2013. He is a 29-year-old, six-year veteran free agent who — despite slipping some in the past two seasons — has a solid arm and can also reliably run the ball. Oh, and did I mention he was recently named as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People?

Why Kaepernick received that honor is the same reason why he’s been waiting this entire off-season for any of the league’s 32 football teams to sign him. Last season, he famously refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem — an act of silent dissent against racism and police violence.


Though some other athletes joined Kaepernick’s protest, condemnation came quickly. A police union threatened to pull security details from games, and then-GOP nominee Donald Trump said that Kaepernick should “find a country that works better for him.” Former fans burned his jersey.

Now, the NFL is burning his career.

Meanwhile, a handful of players who have committed or been accused of violence against women were selected in the recent NFL draft.

Some who expected to go higher dropped into lower spots or rounds, but each player still heard his name called by a team that places star potential above all else. If a troubled player is talented enough on the field, his selection is all but guaranteed.

Joe Mixon, a University of Oklahoma running back selected by the Cincinnati Bengals, was caught on video punching a woman in the face; now a local Cincinnati TV station is urging fans to boycott home games. Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook, drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, was twice arrested (but not convicted) for assaulting the mother of his children. The Cleveland Browns chose Florida’s Caleb Brantley, who was charged in April with misdemeanor battery for knocking a woman unconscious.


And that’s just a sampling of the rogues’ gallery that could be on NFL rosters come fall.

None of this is new. In 2014, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was vilified for giving a measly two-game suspension to then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for assaulting his girlfriend, now his wife, in an elevator. Only after sickening video of the incident went public months later, did Goodell indefinitely suspend Rice from the league. And he couldn’t even make that stick. A judge later overturned Rice’s suspension.

Every October, the NFL makes a big deal out of marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What you’ll never see is a similar recognition for that month’s other women-focused designation. October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but there won’t be purple headbands or gloves on players, no PSAs on the Jumbotron about how domestic violence affects us all, not just victims.

The league can’t sincerely denounce violence against women when, on any given Sunday, there’s likely a player on the field who has committed such an act. In letting the league select players with arrest records, Goodell is culpable in fostering a climate of indifference toward women’s safety, proving such violence isn’t a deal breaker in the NFL.

Kaepernick now says he won’t continue his pre-game protest. While awaiting a call that may never come from an NFL team, he’s been focusing on his charity work. He recently donated two large boxes of his custom-made designer suits to 100 Suits, an organization providing free business wear to former gang members, the homeless, parolees, and domestic violence survivors searching for jobs.


When Kaepernick was selected to the Time 100, his former coach, Jim Harbaugh, wrote, “I also applaud Colin for the courage he has demonstrated in exercising his guaranteed right of free speech.” Now at the University of Michigan, Harbaugh has also been complimentary toward Jourdan Lewis, another of his former players. “One of the finest guys we have on the team. Football character and off-the-field character,” he said.

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Lewis, even though he has a trial date on a misdemeanor domestic violence charges on July 24, the same day as the team’s first training-camp practice. Yet it’s Kaepernick whom owners continue to shun. Somehow, they think he would be a bigger distraction.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.