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Colin Kaepernick should absolutely play in the XFL

That Colin Kaepernick will never take another NFL snap should surprise no one, not after a six-year absence, an eight-figure settlement over the league’s blatant collusion to keep him off the field and especially not at his advanced age of 35, when arguably all but the luckiest, elite QBs have begun their declines.

If you weren’t sold on that before Kaep’s sad, hopeless letter to Jets owner Woody Johnson – a former Super Bowl starter reduced to panhandling for practice squad reps – then you had to be by Johnson’s non-reply, choosing to add nothing to his QB room behind the awful Zack Wilson rather than give Kaep a look. We didn’t need that episode as evidence that Kaep is definitively done in the NFL, but the news this week that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s XFL had reached out to him about playing there – and that Kaepernick in all likelihood won’t do it – raises a more interesting question: does he really want to play football at all?

I’ll say up front that I’m not in the camp that believes his letter to Johnson and ill-fated workouts were all just for show, a way to keep his name from fading into oblivion now that the NFL has completely washed its hands of him. I believe he wants to play, but only in the NFL, and is holding onto whatever shred of hope he can conjure that he’ll get one last shot, despite all contrary evidence.

So why turn down the XFL? Maybe pride or unwillingness to risk injury in a minor-league operation and ruin whatever fantastical chance he still believes he has in the big time. Or money (though it’s doubtful he’s hurting for cash). Or just plain stubbornness. Any of the above could be true and we’ll likely never know the real answer since Kaep rarely does interviews and hasn’t publicly responded to Johnson’s revelation about their meeting. Whatever his reason, it’ll probably stay in his own mind, or only be shared with his inner circle, people like J. Cole, who he allowed to leak the letter to Johnson via X.

Without getting inside his head, what we can say is that by passing on the XFL, Kaepernick would miss a great opportunity, if not to prove he can still play pro football, then to stick the NFL’s nose in it for blackballing him and to take a logical step forward in his evolution of athletics as activism. Reduced to its simplest form, Kaepernick’s battle with the NFL, over kneeling and whether he’d be allowed to play football again, was always about race and power, about how far white apex capitalists could go in using their resources to stop a Black man from using the same body that made them money to also make a statement about the mistreatment of people who look like him. Since he insisted on doing the latter, they’d rather end his career than have him on the field doing the former.

In that context, it matters that the XFL is owned by Johnson, a biracial former athlete, who, according to Forbes, already has a broadcast deal with ESPN and sponsorship pacts with big brands like Under Armour. The rationalizations from the NFL’s defenders over keeping Kaepernick off the field have been numerous, but almost all of them would be refuted by Kaepernick playing a season in the XFL: It would alienate fans (it’s hard to imagine viewership, if not attendance, for XFL games not increasing with Kaepernick as its face); it would alienate sponsors (see above re: Under Armor); he’s not good enough (if the Jets, Bears, Patriots or Raiders QB rooms aren’t enough evidence that he could make at least a practice squad, consider that former XFL quarterback PJ Walker is now backing up the injured Deshaun Watson in Cleveland).

Kaepernick could silence any doubt about his ability or radioactivity to fans or business partners by suiting up. Or he could help Johnson build the XFL itself, perhaps taking equity in the league, generating digital content about his season and becoming something at least some of the NFL’s oligarchs are loathe to imagine: a league owner in his own right.

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