When NFL owners look at out-of-work quarterback Johnny Manziel, they see themselves. Or at least they see their ne’er-do-well son or nephew: the one who was raised in cushy wealth, partied too hard, maybe got in a few legal misunderstandings with the girls, but deep down is a “good boy” and always worthy of a second chance. Playing ability isn’t even part of the conversation. They want him in their club.
When NFL owners look at out-of-work NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, they see a threat. Again, playing ability isn’t even part of the conversation. He is the outsider, the agitator, the one who asks whether black lives really matter to owners and fans; the one who questions how their business can glorify a country that eats its young. He’s their historic nightmare: the one who publicly tells the emperors that they have no clothes.
Both of these quarterbacks are currently out of work. For the uninitiated, Johnny Manziel has a record of physically assaulting women, substance abuse, and being a very poor NFL quarterback. His record as a starter over two seasons was 2-6. He threw for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. His reputation as someone unwilling to listen to coaches or teammates and uninterested in simply putting in the work, is an open secret. He is, by any objective measure, a team deficit: a distraction worth nobody’s time.
Kaepernick was on the cover of Time magazine and named to the Time 100 after a year of community service and social protest that influenced millions and expanded our ongoing national conversation about police violence. During a maelstrom of a season, where he lived under a barrage of death threats and constant media attacks, Kaepernick threw for 16 touchdowns and four interceptions, while also being the second leading rusher among NFL quarterbacks with the highest yards-per-carry average in the league. During his career, he has thrown for 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions and led the 49ers within one play of a Super Bowl championship in 2013. His teammates swear by him. He might be a “distraction” for the right-wing sports-media frothers and NFL owners, but, when it comes to his teammates and coaches, you cannot find one person to say on the record that sharing a locker room with Colin Kaepernick has been anything but a positive. He is the photonegative of Johnny Manziel.
These are the facts: two quarterbacks. One is a dumpster fire who has polarized every locker room he has entered; the other is a role model, polarizing for everyone except the people who call him a teammate. One has had a train wreck of a career; the other has tasted glory.