The big news for us Colin Kaepernick fans is that he’s spending the off-season in Phoenix, Ariz. – working on his quarterbacking skills with Kurt Warner, two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champ for the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals.
So it’s all good, right? Someone who’s talented wants to improve on that. We should be cheering him on, no?
No: Let the hating begin.
“Warner should teach him how to bag groceries” is among the milder thoughts in the blogosphere. The rap is that Colin is a running quarterback who will never be a traditional pocket passer. And that may – or may not – be true.
For the uninitiated, and I must confess that Yours Truly counts herself among them, a pocket passer, like the Broncos’ Peyton Manning or the Patriots’ Tom Brady, stands and delivers, that is he stands in the “pocket” – presumably protected by his great offensive line, or O-line – to throw the ball to various teammates whose locations on the field he quickly “reads” under great pressure.
Then there is the new breed of running quarterback – led by Colin, the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (known as RG III) and the Panthers’ Cam Newton – all of whom have struggled this season. The exception is their contemporary, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who, though a running quarterback, can deliver from the pocket and read the field. He is considered more of a hybrid like the Colts’ Andrew Luck, another contemporary, and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, an established superstar. The thinking is that though it’s fine to be able to scramble, you have to be able first and foremost to stand and deliver in the NFL, unlike in college ball.
All this is fascinating and serves as a great subtext in my novel “The Penalty for Holding,” about a gay, biracial quarterback’s search for acceptance in the NFL. My protagonist, Quinn Novak, is more of a hybrid like a Wilson, Rodgers or Luck – what former Niners’ star Steve Young, a great running quarterback who became a great pocket passer – would call a multi-threat.
But what disturbs me about the pocket passer-versus-running quarterback argument on the Internet are the not-so-subtle prejudicial overtones directed at Colin, who is biracial, and RG III and Cam, who are black. Colin and company are said to be talented all right but not smart enough to rely on more than talent. (This despite Colin’s 4.0 college average and a high score on the Wonderlic test administered to QBs.) Russell gets a pass but then is accused of being a white person’s idea of a black quarterback – in other words, something of an Uncle Tom – more racism.
The prejudice against Colin goes beyond race, however, to reveal men’s insecurities about men who are beautiful, dress stylishly and go their own way. There are complaints about everything from his religious tattoos to his Beats headset to the swirl shaved into his hair to his posing nude for ESPN’s Body issue. None of which has anything to do with what he does on the field.
Unfortunately, Colin enabled the haters this past year by making mistakes on and off the field. He set himself up for a false rape charge – and a TMZ hounding – by the company he kept. He earned fines for uniform-headset violations and allegedly saying the ‘N’ word to a fellow black player. He pushed a cameraman. He was sullen on the podium in postgame press conferences. Some of this was no doubt a response to troubles in the locker room, from injuries and arrests to the team parting from his beloved coach, Jim Harbaugh.
But Colin showed grace under pressure in the last two games of the season and hit the right note at the final presser in which he struck a balance between his affectionate praise for Harbaugh and his loyalty to the front office, which, after all, pays him.
In that press conference, he was shy but smiling, joking, charming.
It’s that Colin who must stand and deliver – on the field and off.