When Tim Tebow was winning the hearts of everyone, including Skip Bayless, during 2011's Tebow Time, it must have seemed impossible to think we'd find a player as unintentionally polarizing as the former Heisman Trophy.
And then, Colin Kaepernick came around. Kaepernick, a black quarterback adopted by a white couple in Wisconsin, has divided fans for years with regards to his skills, his tattoos, and his infamous kneeling protests. I know, it's extremely hard to remember when Kaepernick was looked at as a threat not because of his message or his skin color, but because of how dangerous he was running the ball under Jim Harbaugh.
With that said, let's try to look at Kaepernick's happier times and see how well you know the former second-round pick. Are there ground rules with something like this? Well, yes...
- The basic facts that we all know - Kaepernick has adoptive parents, he was a second-round pick, he is blackballed from the NFL for his protests and his hair - are ineligible. We know those things!
- This is not a list entirely about his protest. Aspects and facts will be included, but it's things you likely had no idea happened.
- This is not an opinionated piece on Kaepernick nor his protests. Things like "Colin Kaepernick is a hero, regardless of what you think" will not be on this list.
Now that we've gotten those basic ground rules out of the way, let's take a look back at one of the more fascinating quarterbacks in recent memory.
15 Kaepernick's kneel came from a former Green Beret
If we went through this list without mentioning the protests in an entry, we'd be crazy, but this is an important one to take note of. Because people tend to immediately jump to conclusions, it was easy to forget - or ignore, depending on the person - that after sitting on the bench to begin his protest, Kaepernick met with Seattle Seahawks walk-on and former Green Beret Nate Boyer to discuss a plan of action going forward...which resulted in the now-infamous kneel.
"We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates," Boyer told HBO's Real Sports last year. "Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave, you know, to show respect. When we're on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security."
So, that is where the kneel comes from: respecting a Green Beret and how when he would be on patrol, he would kneel.
14 Kaepernick began football as a defensive end and punter
Normally when you hear about mobile quarterbacks not starting at that position, they're normally coming over from running back, wide receiver or safety. But a defensive end and a punter? Kaepernick has said numerous times he began his playing days getting sacks and booting long punts; in fact, during a 2013 appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Kaepernick took a picture with Eisen and a shirt that said "Punters are people too." We agree!
In fact, Kaepernick actually got some work in at punter late during the 2013 season when longtime punter Andy Lee was still around. We didn't quite get to see Kaepernick in action the way we did Chad Ochocinco with extra points, but what kind of barrier would the Pro Bowl 49ers quarterback have broken with a meaningful punt?
13 Kaepernick played NBA star Ryan Anderson in the Central California Basketball Playoffs while in high school
A three-sport athlete (football, basketball, and baseball...duh) at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, California, Kaepernick was a first-team all Central California Conference selection at forward before matching up with another forward that would become a star in Oak Ridge's Ryan Anderson. Battling Anderson's No. 1-ranked team, Kaepernick nearly led his 16th-ranked team to a major upset with the future quarterbacks scoring 34; Anderson, however, scored 50 and escaped with the win.
"Make sure you mention how much I scored too," Anderson joked in a 2014 interview with FOX Sports when he was with the New Orleans Pelicans and Kaepernick was still in his prime. "Great memories! Boy, I had a baby face back then, didn’t I?"
Both Kaepernick and Anderson looked much younger in 2014 than they do now, that much is for sure...
12 Kaepernick has more rushing touchdowns than all but three running backs from the 2011 NFL Draft
This won't sound true, especially not with some of the other running backs from the 2011 NFL Draft - Shane Vereen, Jacquizz Rodgers, even Dion Lewis - but Kaepernick and his 13 rushing touchdowns are more than all of them. Even Bilal Powell, a fan favorite with the New York Jets who has enjoyed a strong start to his 2017 season, has one fewer touchdown than Kaepernick through this season's first four games.
The only running backs ahead of Kaepernick, you ask? DeMarco Murray (44) and Mark Ingram (32) should have been the obvious ones, but former New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (22) finishes that list. Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, with three more rushing touchdowns of his own, would also pass Kaepernick, but he's a quarterback.
11 Kaepernick was the first next-gen Madden player to have his tattoos
To keep things short, sports video games cannot always use player's real-life tattoos because there are copyright issues with the artist and the artist's shop. But, after EA Sports was able to work things out with Kaepernick and his artist, the 49ers quarterback was able to rock his signature tattoos in 2014's Madden NFL 15, becoming the first player in years - and the first player on the next-gen consoles - to have his ink in the game.
"It really comes down to a piece of art asset here that could be [copyrighted], frankly, as we've learned over time," Seann Graddy, line producer for the Madden NFL series, told Polygon in 2014. "We want to do this with every player, frankly, and we're hopeful that more players over time actually go out and secure the rights so that we can use their tattoos as well."
10 Kaepernick was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2009
Future NFL stars being drafted by Major League Baseball teams has never been a surprise - in fact, the Kansas City Royals drafted two NFL Hall of Famers in 1979 with John Elway and Dan Marino - but the Cubs' interest in Kaepernick was fascinating. Come 2009, with Kaepernick headed for his junior year at Nevada, the Cubs used a late-round pick on the future Pro Bowler.
"[The NFL teams] didn't think he was going to be much more than a [Canadian Football League] guy at the time," Tim Wilken, the Cubs' scouting director in 2009, told MLB.com's Carrie Muskat in 2013. "The way it was described to me was that his arm action was somewhat suspect -- kind of a slingy arm action with the football -- and they were leery of that. ... we were serious about this. We've had a little success in higher profile settings with [former Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija and former Villanova offensive weapon Matt Szczur]."
With that said, it shouldn't shock you that...
9 Kaepernick was recruited by most schools to play baseball
If you thought Kaepernick was a bit too small to play quarterback in the NFL when you first saw him, you shared the opinions of many collegiate scouts, who thought he was more suited for a pitching career instead. How will your body react to hit after hit when you're only 170 pounds?
That's not to say FBS schools didn't have interest because they did, but they never even offered him a scholarship. It was only when Kaepernick played a high school basketball game while suffering from a 102 °F (39 °C) fever, of all times, that Nevada offered him a scholarship to play Division I football. Given Kaepernick parlayed his success there into becoming a second-round pick of the 49ers and managed to set several records at Nevada, we think he made the right choice?
8 Kaepernick was a fraternity brother in college
For good reason, opinions on fraternities and sororities alike are split - some believe there's still plenty of good to be found, but others think it's time to do away with the groups after hazing and moral issues - but never doubt their loyalty. Kaepernick, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi while at Nevada, received heavy support from his fraternity both during and after last year's protests.
"Since our founding at Indiana University in 1911, Kappa Alpha Psi always has stood as a champion for freedom and service in the public interest," Thomas L. Battles Jr., Grand Polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, wrote NFL commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this year. "To our knowledge, Mr. Kaepernick has not broken any laws ... As such, this is a letter of support for our fraternity brother and an appeal to the Office of the Commissioner to right the wrongs, spoken and unspoken, that find Mr. Kaepernick .... blackballed solely for exercising his Constitutional right to free speech."
7 Kaepernick's first NFL touchdown came as a backup
When Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith in a September 2012 win over the New York Jets, some believed it to be his NFL debut. That's not quite true - Kaepernick did play several times the previous season as a rookie in mopup duty or to experiment - but Kaepernick did score his first touchdown that day on a seven-yard run. I know we tend to think Kaepernick did everything stat-wise after taking over for Alex Smith when the former No. 1 overall pick was concussed in 2012, but the second-year quarterback's first touchdown actually did come as a backup!
There is some irony to be found about Kaepernick scoring against the Jets given how frequently they'd be tied to him after the 49ers first regime change, but I just find it funny the score happened against Gang Green because EVERYTHING happens to the Jets.
6 Kaepernick is now a vegan
True, this is small, but what sounds so simple became controversial this past offseason as outlets began to report teams were afraid to take a chance on a player with a vegan diet. What? You have players taking over the counter supplements that do damage to their body in the short and long-term, players drinking a ton of water just to look heavier, and that's what you're worried about?
And, let's not forget Tom Brady is a vegan. In no way shape or form am I trying to compare Kaepernick to Brady, but the argument that a quarterback isn't going to be effective because he's not putting enough red meat in his body is ridiculous. Is there any chance we can get back to some positive things?
5 Kaepernick was the first collegiate QB to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 yards
Not only did Kaepernick achieve this, but he also became only the fifth player to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in 2008. That season, Kaepernick ranked seventh among all NCAA players with 7.02 yards per rush and was tied for ninth among those players with 17 rushing touchdowns. With that said, it should shock no one that Kaepernick produced three consecutive seasons with 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards, flourishing in the Wolf Pack's offense.
My favorite Kaepernick stat from his college days? Well, it's a choice between Kaepernick following Tim Tebow as the second quarterback in FBS history to throw and rush for 20 touchdowns each in the same season and this: Kaepernick had over twice as many rushing touchdowns (59) as he did interceptions (24) across four years. Not bad!
4 Kaepernick discovered he has roots to Ghana
As America celebrated Independence Day, Kaepernick traveled to find his roots, eventually landing in Ghana this past summer. In July, Kaepernick posted the following message on Instagram:
"What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?" - Frederick Douglass. In a quest to find my personal independence, I had to find out where my ancestors came from. I set out tracing my African ancestral roots, and it lead me to Ghana. Upon finding out this information, I wanted to visit the sites responsible for myself (and many other Black folks in the African Diaspora) for being forced into the hells of the middle passage. I wanted to see a fraction of what they saw before reaching the point of no return...
Kaepernick went on to say that he felt a lot closer to his roots and perhaps seeing his people gave him inspiration to truly stick by what he believes in.
3 Kaepernick has the 18th highest Absolute Value of players from the 2011 NFL Draft
To clarify, this does not mean Kaepernick is the 18th-best player from the 2011 NFL Draft; it simply means if you use Football-Reference to determine a player's Absolute Value (not unlike Wins Above Replacement for baseball, though a bit more inflated for certain positions), Kaepernick has been one of that classes' more valuable players. As of October 2017, Kaepernick ranks above defensive ends Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, and Robert Quinn; tackle Anthony Castonzo; and guard Mike Pouncey, among others.
What does this mean, exactly? Not only was Kaepernick extremely valuable during his time as the 49ers' starter, but his impact was more than even the diehard fan will admit. I've argued before Kaepernick fell out of favor with the 49ers for no reason after the 2014 season and this again shows why. Why does no one want to acknowledge Kaepernick wasn't that bad?
2 Kaepernick's tattoos come from Bible verses
Before his kneeling, Kaepernick's signature image came in the form of his tattoos, which he said represented "family, inner strength, humility, and spirtual growth." It's certainly different than the old "Mom" tattoo, I'd say.
"I’ve had people write me because of my tattoos. I’ve had people write me because of adoption," Kaepernick told Sports Illustrated in 2013 at what seemed like the peak of his popularity. "I’ve had people write me because they’re biracial. I’ve had people write me because their kids have heart defects—my mom had two boys who died of heart defects, which ultimately brought about my adoption. So, to me, the more people you can touch, the more people you can influence in a positive way or inspire, the better.”
Keep in mind, this was in 2013, well before the kneeling began. Who said Kaepernick was out for attention, again?
1 Kaepernick was parodied on South Park
Only South Park could take something as serious as Colin Kaepernick kneeling to protest racial injustice and police brutality and satirize it, but not mock it so much as they mocked the media's over-the-top coverage. In the midst of Kaepernick's 2016 protests, South Park began their 20th season by taking the knee and extending it all the way to elementary school volleyball matches. Seriously. And in South Park fashion, it hit the nail so perfectly on the head that they found a way to solve the knee and the national anthem protests...
...rebooting the national anthem, complete with J.J. Abrams tasked to reboot it the same way he had Star Trek and Star Wars. What would have been easy mocking territory for most shows became an intelligent look at the protests themselves and a perfect Kaepernick parody in the picture above. Not bad, South Park.
Which of these facts did you find most interesting? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!