Colin Kaepernick, left (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

On March 7 the National Football League began its free agency period—the time when teams can offer a contract to any unemployed player. In a league where it is impossible to win without a quarterback, teams usually throw bucketloads of money at veteran starting quarterbacks in an effort to lure them to their franchise.

A playoff-proven professional signal caller during free agency is like the prettiest girl in school showing up at the prom without a date. Before it began, everyone thought this year’s free agent QB class was especially bleak, because there was only one player who had won more than one playoff game. There was only one free agent who had played in a Super Bowl (playing spectacularly and almost winning it), so analysts figured that teams would stand in line to present him with those bucketloads of cash to sign his name on the dotted line.

His name is Colin Kaepernick, and he is still unemployed.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word “blacklist” as:

to put someone’s name on a list of people who are considered not acceptable, which keeps the person from getting jobs, going certain places, or doing particular things

Ex: The industry blacklisted him for exposing corruption.

When Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem last season as a protest against injustice and inequality, many people underestimated the damage he risked inflicting on his NFL career. Most analysts cited the free market meritocracy of professional sports as the reason his performance would dictate the rest of his playing career. After all, there were killers, rapists and a litany of felons who enjoyed long careers in professional football. There’s no way Kaepernick would be singled out for exercising his constitutional right to free speech, right?

Wrong.

On Friday an anonymous NFL general manager told the Bleacher Report why Kaepernick doesn’t have a job:

“He can still play at a high level. The problem is three things are happening with him.

“First, some teams genuinely believe that he can’t play. They think he’s shot. I’d put that number around 20 percent.

“Second, some teams fear the backlash from fans after getting him. They think there might be protests or [President Donald] Trump will tweet about the team. I’d say that number is around 10 percent. Then there’s another 10 percent that has a mix of those feelings.

“Third, the rest genuinely hate him and can’t stand what he did [kneeling for the national anthem]. They want nothing to do with him. They won’t move on. They think showing no interest is a form of punishment. I think some teams also want to use Kaepernick as a cautionary tale to stop other players in the future from doing what he did.”

Let’s look deeper into this.

For the sake of argument, we will acknowledge that there might be a small minority (20 percent, according to this source) of coaches, owners and GMs who don’t believe that the 29-year-old Kaepernick, three years removed from bringing his team within grasp of a championship, can still play. Let’s forget that—in the entire universe—there are only seven current players who have done this. Let’s pretend that this criticism is legitimate based on his horrible statistics on the terrible team he’s played on for the last few seasons.

This means that 80 percent of the league is hesitant to sign Colin Kaepernick because of his political leanings. It is inconceivable that names like Mike Glennon, Brian Hoyer and the roaring, inextinguishable dumpster fire that is Matt Barkley have inked contracts for millions of dollars, yet Kaepernick is unsigned. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Who the fuck is Mike Glennon?”

Exactly.

That any NFL team even considered signing unremarkable cover boy Barkley before offering Kaepernick a job is proof of the vendetta against Kaepernick. If I were prone to scatological humor, I would say that the unaccomplished Barkley could take a hippopotamus-sized dump on the 50-yard line and someone would still give him money, but every time he gets on the field, Barkley actually does shit all over everything.

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There is only one reason Kaepernick isn’t on an NFL roster. If a layperson insinuated that it was because of his pro-black stance, he or she would be routinely dismissed as an instigator or “playing the race card,” but someone in the know—one of only 32 people who sign checks and make these decisions on the professional football level—says that NFL owners “genuinely hate him, and can’t stand what he did.” They are afraid of backlash and the tiny-fingered tweeter-in-chief calling them out.

Maybe these are reasonable concerns for businessmen whose franchises depend on the general public patronizing them. Maybe NFL teams are legitimately worried about public sentiment turning against them. This would all seem credible, if not for these facts:

When the NFL season kicks off next season, one of its signature franchises (the Pittsburgh Stealers) will be led by Ben Roethlisberger, a future Hall of Famer twice accused of rape (once settled out of court). The league will probably hail its reigning championship team, which handed $1.2 million and a Super Bowl ring to Michael Floyd, whom they signed minutes after he lost his previous job for driving around blackout drunk before passing out behind the wheel. They will raise a championship banner to a team whose former star is standing trial for committing double murder while playing for them. Since the beginning of the last season, 19 current NFL players have been arrested for committing crimes, and only four of them were released by their teams. Conversely, Kaepernick is “hated.” Team owners “fear the backlash” against Kaepernick.

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Kaepernick’s unsigned status isn’t simply an indictment of the NFL—it is indicative of how this country seeks to punch any mouth brave enough to speak out against injustice or America’s inhumanity. He is despised by league executives for standing up for people of color while they throw seven-figure deals at arrested domestic abusers and alleged sexual assaulters.

Even if a team eventually signs Kaepernick and he returns to the playing form that made him a rising young star, he will never regain the earning power he once held in the NFL. His season-long protest cost him millions that he will never recoup. Right now, instead of waiting by the phone, Kaepernick is working to help bring food and water to the people of Somalia.

In explaining why he took his controversial stance, he explained: “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Apparently, the NFL’s only response was to check its seldom-used blacklist and say ...

“If?”