The NFL and Distractions

Not for the first time this year the Baltimore Ravens are front and center with Colin Kaepernick. Early in the offseason, John Harbaugh made news when he said Kaepernick would be a starter this year and he’d have no problem signing him. Of course he completely undercut himself by never showing interest in signing him.

Now that Joe Flacco is sidelined for the short term, Harbaugh is again offering up disingenuous words. Despite Harbaugh being effusive in his praise of Kaepernick as a player and as a person, the Ravens signed David Olson. Olson has been playing in the indoor league between 9-5 jobs. He had one pass in college for -1 yard. But sure, he’s probably a better fit for the Ravens offense and what they want.

You would think this move is indefensible but a wide number of people have stepped up to the plate. Fox Sports and NFL Network contributor Peter Schrager suggested Kaepernick exists in a state of self-contradiction, a place where he’s too good to be a camp arm but not good enough to be on a roster. Former ESPN Radio Host Danny Kanell offered up the same excuse.

This is the place we’ve reached. People are entrenched. No matter what happens now we’re going to talk around what is blatant and use the NFL’s culture of always giving the teams the benefit of the doubt to do it.

NFL Network reporter Michael Silver decided to give credence to a Ravens source who claimed the franchise had heard from “numerous” fans about Kaepernick. There are many problems with this. For one, how many is “numerous”? Silver presumably enquired about this and didn’t just relay such a vague term and give it meaning. Numerous could mean 1,000, it could mean 20,000, it could mean two million. Or it could mean five.

Furthermore, NFL owners determine when to care about what fans think. When Ray Rice punched his wife, this very franchise stuck with him for as long as they could. They ignored the backlash and brought Rice into training camp. When Giants kicker Josh Brown beat his wife, the Giants gave him a contract extension and let him play five games after suspension. Brown was a kicker. A kicker! There wasn’t even a football argument to keep him.

NFL owners chose to give credence to fan complaints when it aligns with their own sensibilities.

If you write to them about how ticket prices are too high, they’re not going to pay attention. If you think the seats in the stadium should be wider, they won’t take your input. If Giants owner John Mara gets two million complaints about Eli Manning’s offseason merchandise scandal with people threatening to boycott the team, he’ll just ignore them. He knows that fans won’t follow through on that threat just like Steve Bisciotti knows fans won’t stop watching the Ravens if Kaepernick is on the team.

Yet Bisciotti and Harbaugh will leap into “distraction” mode.

“Distraction” is the term NFL coaches and executives use when they don’t want to explain themselves. The idea is that signing Kaepernick would lead to an increase in media coverage, that media coverage would then lead to players and coaches being asked about Kaepernick instead of being asked about football. (Let’s stop here for a second. The cliche-reliant, question-avoiding players and coaches of the NFL *want* to talk about football? Since when?)

The idea that NFL teams get more distracted based on who is on the roster is not based in any evidence. Every single team in the league gets huge media coverage. Every single team in the league requires its players and coaches to spend time with the media.

If this wasn’t true, why was Marshawn Lynch scrutinized so much for not talking to the media? Why was he fined so heavily? Lynch was the exact opposite of a distraction. He literally wanted to go to work, do his job and go home. But when Lynch tried to do that, he was turned into the story because of the presence of media combined with the expectation put on players to entertain the media.

No matter who is on your roster, reporters have stories to file and the rest of us media members have time slots to fill. Whether it’s Kaepernick or someone else, we’ll be talking about your team this year. You’ll be getting questions and the worst thing that will happen is those questions will change. But even if that happens, you’ll probably still give the same non-answer cliche that you were going to give either way.

The cruel irony of all this is that we’ve talked about Kaepernick for the last six months. Coaches and players are still being asked about Kaepernick while he’s not on a roster. The discussion or “distraction” is going to continue so long as he’s unsigned. If he signs for a team—at this point you have to be irrationally optimistic to think he will—then the coverage will intensify for a day or two before disappearing. That’s exactly how it worked through last year’s season.

NFL owners don’t want to employ Kaepernick. It’s not because of fan reaction. It’s because they don’t want to employ him.

 

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