- Thearon W. Henderson/Getty
Thursday night’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams was sparsely attended, and not having their most popular player on the field certainly didn’t help.
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, free agent Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers in merchandise sales from March through May. Kaepernick spent parts of five seasons as the team’s starting quarterback, but he wasn’t even on the roster during that three-month period.
Kaepernick gained national attention last fall when he took a knee during pregame national anthems in protest of racial and social inequality in the US. While some vehemently defended his right to protest, others were offended by the gesture, sometimes going as far as to boycott the NFL altogether.
While opinions differ on how well Kaepernick played when he was on the field, the 49ers struggled to a 1-10 record in games he started. After the season, the team announced its plan to release Kaepernick, and he officially opted out of his contract on March 3.
But even with his fraught final season and unceremonious exit from the Bay Area, it seems that Kaepernick struck a real chord with San Francisco fans. He posted a career passer rating of 88.9 and led the 49ers to their only Super Bowl appearance in the last two decades in 2012. In addition, his protests resonated with many who believe the NFL is doing too little to fight inequality.
Despite the fact that many signal callers have found new homes over the past six months, Kaepernick remains unsigned. Both the film and the statistics say that the Nevada product is good enough to be on an NFL roster, and his supporters believe he has been “blackballed” by NFL owners who prefer inferior quarterbacks to the potential distraction of employing such a divisive player.
To replace Kaepernick, the 49ers settled on veteran Brian Hoyer, a journeyman who’s played for six teams in nine seasons. After a slow start to the year, he was solid against the Rams, hitting 23 out of 37 targets for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a wild 41-39 loss.
Kaepernick may not lead the team in merchandise sales anymore, but his national profile is bigger than ever. In August, Peter Schrager of Fox Sports tweeted that the quarterback was the only free agent to be listed as one of the NFL’s top 50 players in merchandise sales.