By now it should be clear there aren’t many NFL teams or coaches courageous enough to take on Colin Kaepernick. Which is why the Seattle Seahawks and Pete Carroll make so much sense for him.
In a league where supposedly stoic, fearless leaders of men have suddenly developed malleable spines when it comes to a quarterback who nearly took his team to a Super Bowl title, Carroll stands out as a beacon of strength. While everybody else runs from the idea of even thinking about signing Kaepernick, Carroll has openly declared his interest (along with signing Robert Griffin III).
There are many reasons why Kaepernick is a perfect fit in Seattle. With Russell Wilson firmly established as the starting quarterback Kaepernick will come to a team that won’t have a daily drama surrounding the most important position. He will stay in the NFC West, the only division he has known. And he will step into a locker room that seems ready to embrace him.
“I think a person that’s dedicating their life to creating change, why wouldn’t you want that type of person in your locker room?” defensive lineman Michael Bennett told Seattle radio station 710 ESPN. “Why wouldn’t you want a person that’s actually dealt with people wanting to kill him because of his choices in life?”
Carroll and general manager John Schneider run their team differently from other coaches. They take calculated risks at key positions, relying on the potential over acclaim, letting undrafted players compete for starting jobs regardless of an established player’s status. How many other coaches and executives would have picked the unproven Wilson, taken in the third round of 2012’s draft, as the starter over Matt Flynn – a player the team had guaranteed $9m to run the offense? Perception doesn’t faze Carroll. As opposed to most in his business he doesn’t cower from controversy.
Regardless of Kaepernick’s statistics in the years since he took San Francisco to the brink of winning Super Bowl XLVII, he has a lot to offer a team. His arm is still strong and he can run over and through tacklers when necessary. As a backup in the right offense he can be a very effective weapon. League talent evaluators understand this.
What they fear is Kaepernick’s activism. They work for owners who dread a backlash from those who hate that Kapernick actually believed in something bigger than memorizing playlists, that he was willing to speak out about an African American experience in this country many would rather ignore. In sitting for the national anthem, Kaepernick actually stood for a lot. The fact he wished to start a national dialogue on race terrifies coaches who interpret those words as: He wants to create a distraction.
Nothing horrifies football coaches more than distractions. To them, distractions are a threat to the carefully-planned order of their players’ lives. Distractions mean chaos and chaos means they might lose their jobs. In the mind of a football coach, distractions are death.
Except in Pete Carroll’s locker room
If the Seahawks were coached by another man, Wilson and his celebrity life would be gone, so too would Bennett and social activism. Richard Sherman’s sideline rants would have been dispatched at a bargain rate and Marshawn Lynch might never have been welcomed in the first place. But unlike the rest of the NFL’s coaches, Carroll shrugs at distractions.
“Distractions do slow down the mastery of the craft, however distractions are part of life,” Michael Gervais, a performance psychologist who advises Carroll told me last year. “Ignoring them is not the right way to approach that.”
Carroll has always encouraged his players to speak out. He endures Sherman’s occasional outbursts and the headlines that Bennett generates for the price of allowing his players to grow – to be responsible, to be complete people. Unlike most coaches who live to control their players’ thoughts, Carroll believes the independence will allow them to better handle calamity in games.
“The hope is that we never reduce somebody to just a doer,” Gervais said in that interview. “We want them to feel as if they are full humans and they have a meaningful purpose in their life. We want to amplify that in the most human way possible. It’s not easy because that is what the media does not want to hear or the public might not want to hear.”
For all the training and game planning that coaches do, NFL games and seasons are nothing more than an endurance test. Those who can outlast the adversity that always comes every Sunday afternoon are the ones playing deep into January.
Michael Bennett is right.
Who has taken more public abuse than Kaepernick? Why wouldn’t a team want a player who has faced the scorn and survived?
And yet there might be but one coach strong enough to take him on.