Jeffrey Lurie held an impromptu press conference with assembled media Thursday at the Eagles training complex. The longtime team owner just wanted to share his thoughts on the state of the team and give media an opportunity to pepper him with questions in advance of the season opener. Mostly the questions stemmed from concerns about Doug Pederson’s qualifications as a coach to Howie Roseman’s decision-making as general manager to how the roster is and will be shaped around Carson Wentz.
And Colin Kaepernick.
Lurie was asked if a situation arose where the Eagles needed a quarterback if he would sign the former San Francisco 49ers signal caller who, as most of the country knows, has been unable to find work in the NFL after his much-covered demonstrations during the national anthem last season. Other NFL players, including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, have chosen to demonstrate as well, hoping to spark and continue the necessary conversation about race relations, police brutality and social injustice in America. Most players who choose to protest the anthem, Kaepernick included, have made it clear they are not anti-military or anti-police. But that hasn’t mattered to a lot of fans, and it’s led to speculation the NFL owners have “blacklisted” Kaepernick out of the league for choosing to become the face of this cause.
Lurie was asked about the suspicion of collusion and quickly dismissed it, saying that “it doesn’t work that way” in the NFL, and that the 32 owners are so competitive with one another, they don’t share anything. “In my 23 years in the league,” Lurie said, “I’ve never heard any discussion of a player like that. You keep it to yourself. You have your own strategy. I think that’s the way it works.”
Lurie didn’t bite on whether he’d sign Kaepernick because he doesn’t have to. For now the Eagles are happy with their quarterback situation, and the owner publicly speculating what they would do if Wentz gets hurt doesn’t help the players, coaches or front office do their jobs any better.
By and large, Lurie did a decent job answering questions about Kaepernick, sticking to the script while straddling the line between not specifically talking about the player while addressing the larger issue social injustice. When first asked (by ESPN’s Tim McManus) if he’d sign Kaepernick and if the NFL owners have a responsibility when it comes to player protests, Lurie said, in part:
“It’s a big problem in America, social injustice. It’s a big problem around the globe. Anybody who wants to do proactive things, to try to reverse social injustice, I’m all in favor of. It has to be respectful. It certainly has to respect the military and the people that serve, the women and men that serve our country, emergency responders, whoever that is. You’ve got to, I think, do it in a respectful way.”
“But I applaud anybody,” he continued, “that can find respectful ways of trying to use their platform in some way to discuss social injustice. We all need to discuss it.”
Lurie said he’s spoken with Jenkins quite a bit, and noted that the Eagles franchise works within the community to help many different causes, reiterating that everything should be done with respect.
“Anyone who doesn’t have respect for the servicemen that support the country loses me,” Lurie said. “So it’s very important to show respect for the flag, for the anthem, but it can be misinterpreted that certain people are not showing respect. We’ve got to get to the bottom of what are they trying to accomplish, and are they being proactive in the community, and what are they doing? I think you’ve got to take a holistic view of it.”
Okay, then. That very difficult, hot-button topic was handled by the Eagles owner. Mostly.
There’s just one problem with one answer, and it involves a former Eagles quarterback he ostensibly compared Kaepernick to. Via the Eagles public relations transcription:
Q. Would you sign Colin Kaepernick? (Tim McManus)
JEFFREY LURIE: I have no idea. We are completely happy with our quarterback situation. So like every position situation, I mean, if that happened, we’d have to fully evaluate it. With [former Eagles QB] Michael Vick, there was a complete vetting of how is he as a teammate? What is his character? What is his potential? What is his football intelligence? Can he be a backup, in Michael’s situation, or a third string, in that time period? It’s a whole series of evaluations. That’s how we approach any player acquisition. I don’t want to talk about any specific player.
An NFL owner compared the hypothetical suggestion of signing Kaepernick to the actual real decision of signing Michael Vick. The problem? Vick signed after returning to the NFL following a stretch in federal prison.
Kaepernick, who has been an upstanding member of his community and recently donated $1 million of his own money to various causes he’s been protesting and speaking out on behalf of, is not returning to the league after being incarcerated. Kaepernick wasn’t out of football for brutalizing dogs or for running an illegal gambling ring.
This is not about Michael Vick. He deserved the second chance Lurie gave him and by all accounts came out of Leavenworth a rehabilitated man. And, yes, Vick was an enormous distraction for Lurie and the Eagles when they signed him. People threatened to boycott the team. Fans canceled season tickets (or said they would at least) and the city was polarized over how and why a man like that could play for a team in this city.
Kaepernick quietly kneels during a song about America before he goes out and plays football. And what he’s “trying to accomplish,” as Lurie put it, is to end police brutality toward persons of color. Philadelphia, last I checked, has had its fair share of this exact version of social injustice.
Now, to be fair to Lurie, he wasn’t comparing what Vick did to what Kaepernick does. He was merely using the comparison of signing a quarterback who could be a distraction. And yet, by comparing the two, Lurie put Kaepernick’s actions in a criminalistic perspective. He directly compared signing Kaepernick to that time he signed the ex-con.
Why not compare Kaepernick to Tim Tebow instead?
Tebow was brought in for what ended up being a glorified preseason tryout two years ago and the local and national media coverage turned the Eagles into an absolute circus. Tebow was a mediocre (read: bad) quarterback who was not a good fit for the current NFL and had a huge following that cared about him getting a job more because of what he stood for than what he did on the field.
Tebow was unabashedly outspoken about his personal causes — noble yet extremely polarizing that they are — and he had never been in any trouble in his life. And people loved and hated him for all of that.
So why did Lurie compare Kaepernick to Vick and not Tebow? If you’ve read this far, unfortunately, you know the answer. It’s race. And that’s a problem.
This isn’t to blame Lurie for the comparison, it’s to point out the shame of it being made at all. He answered every other question about this topic well, but when we talk about social injustice, it begs the question why it’s okay to compare Kaepernick peaceably demonstrating at work to an ex-criminal, not an evangelical.