Monday was the first chance for ESPN First Take debaters Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman to weigh in on Friday's NFL settlement with former player Colin Kaepernick, who, along with Eric Reid, had sued on the grounds of collusion to keep them out of the league for kneeling. Both First Take commentators have consistently defended Kaepernick's social justice cause, but on Monday Kellerman said Kaepernick can claim victory and Smith disputed that.
No one actually knows any terms of the settlement because of its non-disclosure agreement. However, Bleacher Report writer Mike Freeman speculated that Kaepernick and Reid, now an active member of the Carolina Panthers and a party to the collusion suit, may have relieved the NFL of between $60 and $80 million.
Kellerman got the first "at bat" on First Take's Monday edition, stating: "Big picture and you have to look hard at this moment, "Colin Kaepernick looks good." Kaepernick raised awareness of the way police interact with communities of color. "Was awareness raised? Obviously. Were resources raised and directed in that — and directed there? The answer is yes. They were. "
Kellerman says an additional indicator of victory for Kaepernick would be getting a job in the league and again kneeling during the national anthem. He acknowledged that if the former San Francisco QB makes a comeback and stands for the anthem or does not play in the NFL again, then the league will have won. Standing for the national anthem is now "truly optional," and, Kellerman adds:
"It (standing) is not mandatory. And there are those who have opted out of it. So he has not only raised awareness, he's changed the way the league does business and even if he doesn't benefit directly, which apparently he has because he got paid for this, he has made a difference in precisely the way he intended in the first place. So you have to look hard but big picture is he won."
Smith countered Kellerman by saying that without any knowledge of the settlement details, such as potential stipulations agreed upon by both sides, no one can claim victory:
"Well, he might have won in the big picture, Max Kellerman. I don't know that yet. I don't see that. To answer the question directly, I will tell you, he doesn't look very good and those that supported it and martyred him doesn't look good. ..."
Smith questioned what Kaepernick has actually won and criticized him for his reclusiveness and leaving others to martyr him and fight the social justice battle he began:
" ... Well, here's where the problem lies. What did you win, Colin Kaepernick? I want to know the money. I want to know what the details of the settlement are. That's what I want to know. You don't sit up there and get to get martyred by everybody and their grandmother.
"All of these — over the last two years with everybody making the case about how he's being blackballed, he's being ostracized and all of this other stuff. You don't get to sit up there and send out tweets thanking Rihanna and other stars not willing to perform at halftime (at the Super Bowl). There are folks, particularly from the minority community, that have been standing up, screaming, hooting, hollering how you've been ostracized, mistreated and all of a sudden you quietly reach a settlement and we don't know what it entails, that's my problem with all of this."
Smith said no one knows if Kaepernick successfully defended or sold out on his principles. If the settlement includes the NFL saying, "We're going to give you this money, shut up, come back and play and you capitulate to that," then it goes against everything Kaepernick said his cause was about. If he resumes his NFL career and stands for the anthem it will bother a lot of people who would conclude he surrendered on issues he swore he was sacrificing his career for. It would also prove to people that Kaepernick is not worthy of comparisons made between him and the late Muhammad Ali:
" ... Different times not to mention the fact that Muhammad Ali spoke out, adamantly and vehemently on his own behalf and he didn't disappear. For a couple years now, we haven't seen Colin Kaepernick do interviews. We haven't spoken him — we haven't seen him speak eloquently. He left it to a lot of people to martyr him. So in light of that reality and then you tweeting and thanking Rihanna and others not performing halftime at the Super Bowl and what have you, you taking these positions suddenly if not flagrantly."
Kellerman tried to strengthen his argument for a Kaepernick victory by saying NFL players are now protesting the national anthem without repercussions, and no one else has been colluded against.
Will Cain, a rare conservative at ESPN, said technically it's not a win for Kaepernick. "Where we stand today we have a clear draw. We do not know. That is what a settlement is. The only thing that was accomplished is some sum of money. You can attach wins or losses to that money based on your own interpretation but we don't know."