By MARK KNUDSON     @MarkKnudson41     Special to woodypaige.com 

There was a time not too many seasons ago when Colin Kaepernick was among the best young quarterbacks in the National Football League. That time is not now, not anymore.

After leading the San Francisco 49’ers to the Super Bowl and nearly pulling off a miracle comeback to win it, Kaepernick’s career began to slide downhill. First the 49’ers went through a regime change that resulted the loss of his head coach, Jim Harbaugh at the end of the 2014 season. Then, more importantly, Kaepernick was injured midway through the 2015 season and missed the remainder of the season after having shoulder surgery.

When he came back, he was not the same player. Still isn’t. There has been noticeable skill erosion. Still, he wasn’t terrible last season in limited game action. On a terrible team with a terrible offense, Kaepernick still threw 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in 12 games. He totaled more than 2,200 yard passing and more than 460 yards rushing. Not terrible.

None of that of course, is or was the story. The story was and remains all about Kaepernick’s politics. His decision – made in the pre-season – was to remain seated during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner as a show of displeasure for an American justice system that had allowed far too many white police officers to avoid punishment for shooting and killing unarmed African-Americans. That stance has come to overshadow anything he’s ever done on the football field – good and bad – since the start of the 2016 season.

Some have called him brave; others have called him a traitor…and worse. But no one has called him to offer him a job as an NFL QB since last season ended. There have been plenty of teams in need. Each has turned to a less talented, less able bodied and less accomplished quarterback to sign during this time. Why?

Because NFL owners and front office types have no backbone, that’s why.

Most of us do not agree with Kaepernick’s method of protest. Sitting – then eventually kneeling – was a passive aggressive act that solved nothing. This national issue didn’t need anyone to simply draw attention to it. What was needed was positive action. How are you going to take a stand when you choose to sit?

And that’s okay. We don’t have to agree with Kaepernick’s perfectly legal and harmless actions. But a whole lot of us – most Americans I would hope – also believe in his right to take the (in)action, the right to free speech. And to his immense credit, Kaepernick didn’t conclude his protest at season’s end by simply getting back on his feet and onto his couch. He began to take actual, prudent social action. Since the entire episode began, Kaepernick has donated one million dollars of his own money to charity. He recently handed out suits to men leaving a New York City parole office. His “Know your Rights” campaign and involvement in Milwaukee’s “Urban Underground” are aimed at helping oppressed minority children get better education and nutrition.

He’s never been in any sort of legal trouble. He was an honor student in college at the University of Nevada.

So this is a Good Samaritan that remains unsigned. NFL types will continue to make the excuse that Kaepernick “would be a distraction” if they brought him onto their team. They claim he “would divide the locker room.” That’s all a collective pile of covfefe – a cheap and lazy narrative to fall back on when you chicken out and sign a sub-mediocre “talent” like Austin Davis rather than a guy who was seven yards away from being a Super Bowl MVP. A “divided locker room?” At the end of last season, after the quarterback had gone through all the scrutiny and all the backlash and all the criticism that included death threats for simply exercising his right to free speech, his 49’er teammates voted Colin Kaepernick the prestigious Len Eshmont Award as the team’s Most Inspirational Player for 2016.

Divided locker room? Right.

To be sure, there are ticket-buying football fans out there that hate Colin Kaepernick and always will. Many who mistakenly and foolishly believe his protest was aimed at disrespecting members of the military will never forgive him. And there are probably some ill-informed sponsors – the ones who pay the clubs the big money for the association – who feel the same way. Ironically, it’s those same sources of cash – the ticket buyers and sponsors – who are quick to forgive a domestic abuser, or a player who gets arrested for DUI or worse – and welcome them back to the team provided they can produce on the field. Those who say Kaepernick “betrayed his country” seemingly have more of a problem with this victimless gesture than they do with a standout running back beating his young son with a switch or a linebacker who punches his wife.

These are the shallow minded people that the NFL owners are cowering down to. All this hand wringing over a symbolic gesture done to show anger over the loss of innocent lives.

Hypocrites, all of them.

After Seattle passed on signing Kaepernick, it doesn’t look like any team will have the guts to sign him until desperation sets in. Perhaps when a team or teams are hit with a rash of injuries, there may be an emergency call made to the one-time star QB. It would be appropriate if when that call comes, if Kaepernick simply flipped them the bird and sat this one out.