Adidas is interested in signing Colin Kaepernick. However, there appears to be just one possible snag — the free agent quarterback must first be signed by an NFL team.
That could be quite the sticking point, given that Kaepernick was made to sit out all of last season and has drawn little apparent interest this offseason. In the meantime, he and his legal team have been collecting evidence, including depositions from team owners and league officials, for a grievance case he filed against the league in October that claims his unemployment is related to his political activity, most notably his protests during the national anthem.
To hear top Adidas executive Mark King tell it, Kaepernick’s protests are not a problem at all, but an attractive element. Still, King added a significant caveat in saying during a recent question-and-answer session at Arizona State University, “If he signs on a team, we would definitely want to sign him.”
“We love athletes that have a platform to make the world a better place,” King, Adidas’s North American president, said, according to The Arizona Republic. “If they’re an activist in a way that brings attention to something that moves the world forward, even if there’s controversy at that moment, we’re really interested in those athletes because I think it represents the world today.”
Kaepernick began protesting during the anthem in 2016, as a way of bringing attention to racial injustice, specifically police brutality toward unarmed black men. Just before the start of last year’s free agency period, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Kaepernick was prepared to discontinue his pregame protests, but a meeting with the Seahawks last week was reportedly derailed after the quarterback would not commit to standing during the anthem.
Kaepernick provided more reason for NFL teams to wonder if he would continue his protests on Sunday, which marked MLB’s annual Jackie Robinson Day, commemorating the Dodger great’s integration of baseball on April 15, 1947. Kaepernick posted on Twitter this quote from Robinson, which he wrote in his 1972 autobiography: “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”
According to the Republic, King said that Adidas’s interest in activist athletes represents the company’s desire to position itself at the “intersection between culture and sports.” He added, “We’re not in the business of activism, we’re in the business of sport. But allowing our athletes to tell their story, it’s really important to us.”
It’s understandable that Adidas would want Kaepernick to be on a team before signing him, given the exposure he would get in the country’s most popular league. But it’s not like the quarterback would be able to wear Adidas cleats during NFL games, as Nike has an exclusive deal with the league to supply its uniforms and apparel that runs until 2028.
In that sense, it seems there’s little reason for Adidas not to give Kaepernick a contract regardless of his NFL employment status. For being willing to sacrifice his NFL career for the cause of racial justice, the former 49ers quarterback has reached a degree of national recognition that far exceeds what he earned as a player, even though his numerous postseason highlights include a commendable performance in the 2013 Super Bowl.
Adidas had slipped far behind Nike and was even passed by Under Armour, a much younger company, in North American sales, but the German brand has staged a recent comeback by partnering with pop culture titans such as Kanye West, as well as by adding hip new styles to its retro-chic classics. Kaepernick, whose post-NFL accolades include being named GQ magazine’s “Citizen of the Year” in November, could appeal to some of the same demographic, at least in theory, without ever having to step behind center again.
Alternatively, and to look at King’s remarks in a more cynical light, the executive may simply have been paying lip service to Kaepernick’s activism, with confidence that the quarterback is unlikely to actually get signed by an NFL team. More evidence of that came Monday, when the Seahawks re-signed Austin Davis, a quarterback with a mediocre resume who was first inked by the team last summer, following a very public dalliance at that time with Kaepernick.
That Davis move came shortly after Seattle brought aboard another journeyman quarterback, Stephen Morris, who has also accomplished far less in the NFL than Kaepernick. In fairness, both Morris and Davis have experience in the system favored by new Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, but the recent acquisitions allowed for a reasonable suspicion that, as with Adidas, the Seahawks would rather make a show of being interested in aligning with Kaepernick than make a contractual commitment to him.
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