While recounting the season where he and Colin Kaepernick were teammates, and when Kaepernick took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith said on a recent podcast he struggles to understand how his former backup isn’t in the NFL. The conversation where this came up happened on 10 Questions With Kyle Brandt.
“It still doesn’t make sense,” Smith said. “The run that he went on the last year we were together when we went to the Super Bowl…it was so crazy to watch. Truly one of the historic runs in football to see what he was doing. He still holds records from that time period. Really special. It’s crazy that fast forward to only a couple of years after that he’s out of the league. You couldn’t even grasp it. You couldn’t understand it.”
Smith’s confusion in that quote stems from seeing an incredibly talented quarterback take a team to a championship game and somehow that ability not being enough to keep him in the NFL for years to come. Of course, there’s a pretty clear timeline of events that explains why he never made it back to a league roster.
In 2016, Kaepernick famously took a knee during the playing of the national anthem as an act of protest against systemic racism and police brutality in the United States. This protest made many who were quick to dismiss his actions as disrespect towards a song and flag quite upset — a group that apparently included the eventual president, Donald Trump — and when his contract with San Francisco ran out, he never got a real opportunity to return to the league.
Kaepernick eventually filed a lawsuit against the NFL, along with Eric Reid, claiming that owners colluded against the two prominent protesting players to not sign them onto rosters. The two sides settled in February 2019.