Here is a link to my Sunday 49ers column. The full text runs below:
Ira Miller wrote me an email early last week. Ira and I covered the 49ers together for a long time and are close friends. Ira, now retired and living outside Chicago, was the best football beat writer in America for decades. You know all that.
The subject line on his email read: “Disgusting.”
“That the 49ers didn’t make Kaepernick talk. Just disgusting. No accountability.”
That was his message when I opened the email. Ira was referring to Colin Kaepernick’s demotion for the Atlanta game and how Kaepernick and the 49ers handled the news.
I called Ira Saturday morning to follow up. I told him Kaepernick finally spoke to the media on Friday. “He should have been made available the day it happened,” Ira said. “That’s how professional organizations do it.”
If you think Ira was saying the 49ers are not professional, you’re right. If you think he meant the Niners have zero accountability, you’re right again. No accountability from the owner on down. Disgusting.
Let’s back up a moment. Word spread throughout America Monday evening the 49ers were benching Kaepernick. On Tuesday, Kaepernick did not speak. On Wednesday, his usual day to speak, he did not speak. On Thursday, he did not speak.
The 49ers had a non-speaker on the loose.
Then on Friday, he regained the power of speech. A miracle! He deserves a certain amount of praise for speaking at all — you decide how much praise. He was in a tough spot and could have dummied up. But he had his reasons for flapping his lips to the media.
He wanted to justify himself. He went on and on about being a team player and not questioning the decision to bench him. And he pledged to support starter Blaine Gabbert. All very praiseworthy. But if those were his primary thoughts, he could have stated them on Wednesday, said something like, “Good for Blaine. This is business and I understand that. I’m a team player and will support Blaine.”
Doing the nice thing. Doing the right thing.
But he didn’t do the nice right thing. He waited until Friday, waited until Jim Tomsula had explained the benching to the media, waited until offensive coordinator Geep Chryst explained the benching. Then Kaepernick took his shot. Here is a shortened version of his Friday Q&A, emphasizing the key points:
Q: Jim Tomsula said on Wednesday he’s benching you to give you an opportunity to breathe, take a step back and refocus. Do you think you need that opportunity?
Kaepernick: I’m not out of breath, so I don’t understand that reference.
Q: I think he meant mentally, just giving you a break from all the pressure that has been building this year. Do you feel that was building inside of you, too?
Kaepernick: No, I don’t believe in pressure. Pressure is not being prepared for what you want to do. To me, I’ve played full seasons. I’ve played full seasons and been successful. It’s something that, mentally, I’ve been through before. I’m not incapable of going through things.
Q: Geep said quite directly he thought when you came in in 2012 you had the mentality of, “OK, I’m the new guy — I’m going to go make some plays.” Whereas he thought this year you were trying to avoid mistakes. Would you agree with his assessment?
Kaepernick: No, I don’t believe that’s accurate. Every time I step on the field, I step on the field to make plays. So, that’s just a matter of opinion.
Look closely at Kaepernick’s answers. When Tomsula said Kaepernick needed a chance to breathe, he was using a metaphor, saying Kaepernick needed to step back from the tumult of the game.
Kaepernick, an intelligent man even though he’s not an intelligent quarterback, surely understood that. But he pretended to take the metaphor literally — that the coach really was talking about breathing.
Well, Kaepernick may be breathing just fine, but every 49ers observer knows he needs a break. Because his play is terrible. Kaepernick was disagreeing with his coach in a sly way, saying he is breathing well and, I guess, playing well.
Moving on. Kaepernick said he does not believe in pressure. He certainly is entitled to his beliefs — I believe in Munchkins — but whether or not he believes in pressure, pressure is crushing him. Everyone sees that. Everyone believes that. He throws grounders to open receivers. He overthrows open receivers. By a mile. He hit that guy on the sideline, hit him in the coconut. Who will ever forget that? It is a signature moment in Kaepernick’s fading career.
Pressure is killing him. Tomsula is right about that.
Moving on. Chryst said Kaepernick is playing like a guy avoiding mistakes instead of an aggressive quarterback making plays. Kaepernick said that’s a matter of opinion. Sure, everybody’s opinion. After some of his recent crummy games, even Kaepernick admitted he didn’t want to make throws to hurt his team, so he threw away the ball. Enter the grounder and the coconut throws.
So, sure, Kaepernick finally spoke on Friday, but what he said was self-serving and, more important, dead wrong. Has anyone ever lacked self-knowledge like this guy?
Moving on. There are other issues. There is the issue of the game against Atlanta. And there is the issue of Gabbert. Chances are he’ll do no better than Kaepernick. He’ll have the same bad offensive line, and his new running backs are frantically trying to learn the playbook, and he has no history of being good. Everything is stacked against Gabbert.
It is probable Kaepernick will be the starter at some point this season. And then things will get even more interesting. Kaepernick will re-enter the fray knowing he’s done in Santa Clara. Believe me, he’s done. He will have zero incentive to lay it on the line, to take a big hit, to expose himself to injury. He will protect himself for the future of his career, for his future employer. Safety-first football. The Niners have lost Kaepernick forever, although it’s not a big loss.
Which means the 49ers have a whopping big dilemma with their quarterbacks. Not the biggest dilemma they face down there.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.