As more and more NFL players speak up in the wake of George Floyd's killing, two things are clear: many African American players didn't feel like they could stand by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 and they plan to handle it differently this time around.
In fact, with so many players speaking up -- and enough of the NFL now sympathizing with Kaepernick's original message (and, more importantly, understanding it) -- Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks even suggested Kaepernick could be welcomed back into the league.
"I wonder if he gets a job," Hicks said Wednesday. "I wonder if now they say, 'Hey we need to bring you back in. We've seen the injustice. We've seen the wrong in the situation that we put you in. And we want to fix it.' Now is it signing him back? Is it giving him a position in the league? Maybe he works on the social justice committees. Maybe he's involved in a greater role, to make sure we don't have these instances again. I can't speak to how to fix the situation."
Hicks, Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan and wide receiver Allen Robinson all spoke candidly in Zoom calls with reporters Wednesday. Hicks was especially raw and honest, admitting he feared he would lose his job if he knelt with Kaepernick. At the time, he was in his first year with the Bears and on somewhat of a two-year "prove-it" contract before getting a big extension in 2017.
"At that time when Kaepernick was taking a knee I had the same thought that 85, 90 percent of the league thought at that moment. If I get down on one knee in front of this stadium, I am fired. My job, my career, my life is over. I will be blackballed," Hicks said. "And then to come out on the other end and watch it actually happen to Kaepernick it just tells me my feelings were real."
And yet, despite the obvious repercussions that players were facing, both Hicks and Trevathan feel like they could have done more.
"I feel like we all could've done a little bit better in that aspect. I did what I felt was important, and that was taking a stand and I joined the (Bears') social justice committee just to make a difference," Trevathan said. "It's real life. We're dealing with that now today. Football is football, man. And wrong is wrong. And right is right. It costs nothing to love one another. It costs nothing to care about one another. We can't keep ignoring stuff and putting it under the table. We have to be a man about it and deal with it and actually take actions without fearing the repercussions of stuff. What the repercussions are, we're still in it. We have to take action, man."
It appears more peaceful protests from players are on the way, perhaps even kneeling during the national anthem again. The question is: will the NFL establishment be more accepting this time?
"I do think (the NFL) would be tolerant of it," Robinson said. "Do I think that is the next step? I'm not sure if that's the next step but I think that's probably in the talks."
Trevathan added: "I'm gonna make sure I do my part, whatever it is. I've got two little ones I've gotta grow up and teach what's going on in the world. I don't want to give them a broken world that's confused and (full of) hatred. I don't want them to deal with that. But the reality is, I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing this for them. I'm doing it for people after me. I might not reach my goal, but I will get close to it. I will help and do my part. That's what I'm here for as a man."
In many ways, this feels like a second chance for the NFL. It's unfortunate that players feel regret for not standing by Kaepernick when their employers were making them feel like they couldn't. The league now has the opportunity to do the right thing. Hicks wondered if the Kaepernick situation can be rectified and included the Bears in the conversation. He wondered if Kaepernick could get a job in the NFL again.
"We watched it. We saw how it unfolded. And we see that he doesn't have a job now," Hicks said. "And this call isn't to advocate for Kap getting a job, but I will say that he did sacrifice his position for where he is now. I can't say (he's in a) tough spot, but I will say this, his career was ended because of it in my opinion."
Hicks paused and added:
"We signed Mike Glennon."
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Akiem Hicks wonders if Colin Kaepernick can be welcomed back into NFL originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago