After San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick embarked on a “national anthem protest” against police brutality, the NFL and the 49ers stated that participation in the pre-game ceremony was not a league or a team requirement.

That meant it was voluntary.

But did headlines state, “Quarterback didn’t volunteer for pre-game ritual for personal reasons…” Of course not, it was promoted as a protest. Kaepernick was transformed from athlete to activist, but his symbolic gesture generated a national debate about free expression instead of the reality Kaepernick wanted to bring to the forefront.

Kaepernick had no control over the narrative from the start. (The price of spontaneity or a rookie mistake.)

The NFL went back to business and left Kaepernick’s fate to the public.

Some fans supported him and some fans burned his jersey. (Fan is short for fanatic, and fanaticism is dangerous in all of its forms, add something unpatriotic to that fuel and business feels the heat.)

But regardless of the controversy over whether or not Kaepernick was right or wrong, the fact remained that not participating in an optional activity is not a protest.

It’s just non-participation.

And pretending that it was something beyond that may be the biggest factor why he wasn’t picked up by another NFL team.

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