Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback whose political activism made him a divisive figure, has today been added to Madden NFL 21 as a free agent after being left out of several previous iterations due to his status with the league.
“Knowing that our EA Sports experiences are platforms for players to create, we want to make Madden NFL a place that reflects Colin’s position and talent, rates him as a starting QB, and empowers our fans to express their hopes for the future of football,” EA Sports’ official statement reads. “We’ve worked with Colin to make this possible, and we’re excited to bring it to all of you today.”
After taking over for injured starting quarterback Alex Smith late in the 2012 season, Kaepernick led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, which the team narrowly lost to the Baltimore Ravens. His impressive results in the following season led to a six-year contract extension from the 49ers, but headlines eventually began to focus more on Kaepernick’s sideline protests than his play.
Starting in the 2016 preseason, Kaepernick was often spotted sitting on the bench during the pre-game singing of the United States national anthem—one of several examples of the “paid patriotism” encouraged by millions of dollars from the Department of Defense—rather than standing and saluting. This came during a confluence of political events, including the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests of police shootings and a national reckoning of the United States’ complicity in fomenting the racist atmosphere that often facilitates these tragedies.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained after one of these games. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
After speaking with fellow NFL player and military veteran Nate Boyer about the protest, Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid decided to kneel during the anthem instead. What started as a singular act eventually became a widespread movement that has lasted for years, both in the NFL and throughout professional sports. This earned negative attention from the usual suspects (i.e. white dudes whose profile pictures are always inexplicably taken in the front seat of a pickup truck and the fascist president they worship), and even became a discussion point between the NFL and the NFLPA players union after the league tried to prevent kneeling during the anthem.
As is often the case, Kaepernick’s punishment for publicly protesting injustice has been more insidious. The quarterback parted ways with the 49ers in the 2017 offseason, likely expecting to be courted as a free agent. But nothing happened; Kaepernick was routinely passed over for lesser players for the same position. In late 2017, Kaepernick filed a lawsuit against the NFL, claiming that team owners had colluded to keep him out of the league because of his protesting. And while the league was eventually forced to settle, Kaepernick has still yet to even be granted an official workout by any of the league’s 32 teams despite several arguably in need of a quarterback with his experience and talent.
EA Sports and Madden haven’t been free of their own Kaepernick-shunning moments—previous games “mistakenly” censored his name in songs—but the move to recognize the quarterback in Madden NFL 21 is big. This, combined with a previous decision to drop the racist epithet that was used by the professional football team out of Washington D.C. for over 80 years, shows progress is finally being made. If only the world didn’t move so slowly.