It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the San Francisco 49ers to hear that the way Colin Kaepernick handles his press conferences is a running joke of sorts with the media. When he goes into “Robo Kap” mode and tries to speed through his twice-weekly Q&A’s with answers like “we just need to execute” and “every week we’re trying to improve at everything we do,” everyone notices. Some just laugh it off, others seem to take it personally.
The whole to-do about how Kaepernick interacts with journalists is so overblown that I didn’t plan on writing about it again, even though Lowell Cohn and Scott Ostler both wrote “columns” about Kaepernick that ran within 24-to-36 hours of the 49ers’ victory over Seattle (Ostler’s was more like a blog post than a traditional column). I already touched on the subject last week when discussing the inevitable comparisons between the verbose-but-says-nothing Seahawks quarterback and the 49ers quarterback who literally says nothing, and it seems lazy to keep going back to the well on this — almost like dredging up concerns over Pablo Sandoval’s weight every few months.
Then I heard a few KNBR callers weigh in on Kaepernick last night. The calls included plenty of advice for Kaepernick, accusations that he doesn’t take his job seriously enough (supposedly he spends his time between possessions giggling instead of looking at photos), and the requisite mentions about his appearance.
That’s what so much of this (too much, in my opinion) hinges on. Kaepernick doesn’t look like Joe Montana, Steve Young, Drew Brees or Tom Brady. He’s a big guy with lots of tattoos, a cap with a flat bill, and the ever-present headphones. Some people are fixated on those Beats, as if they signify anything more than an endorsement deal Kaepernick signed to take advantage of his earning potential off the field.
(Kaepernick’s on-field earning potential is restricted for the first few years of his career, due to rules in the NFL’s most recent collective bargaining agreement.)
Does the Kap-bashing come from a racist place? It certainly seems possible, since comparing him to Wilson is quickly becoming the “You’ve got me all wrong, I have plenty of black friends” portion of this debate. But this is also about people wanting to be treated nicely by a guy who looks at least semi-happy to see them. Some reporters feel snubbed, and some fans take Kaepernick’s words and expressions as an insult to them as well.
Kaepernick probably gives shorter answers than any other established starting quarterback in the NFL, it’s true. He could probably stand to smirk a little less, but he’s far from menacing. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy; more like a man who loves every part of his chosen profession besides the questions designed to probe his psyche and generate headlines.
Yet, if he smiled occasionally in response to questions from people like Cohn and Ostler and wore a suit after the game, the criticism would either show up far less frequently or vanish entirely.
Alex Smith doesn’t say anything, but he puts people at ease. In grandmotherly terms, Alex is a good boy. As we’ve all known since the moment Kaepernick was drafted, in almost every way he’s the anti-Alex. That’s partly why Harbaugh chose Kaepernick.
Most fans couldn’t care less about how players treat the media. Maybe that’s what irks some of the newspaper vets, that the public by and large considers this problem with Kaepernick about as important as free press box hot dogs running out at halftime.
Cohn brought up how Kaepernick’s behavior makes it harder on other players, because it forces reporters to “go to the next guy” and ask the same questions. It’s a clever ploy, because by extension it appears as if Cohn cares about a cause other than himself (tough to believe from a guy who includes “Lowell” in a good percentage of his blog’s headlines).
Cohn is just trying to protect Donte Whitner and Joe Staley! Surely they appreciate and cherish his help.
Except reporters don’t go into these postgame settings with a set of three, five or seven questions, hoping the most important players answer them so that they can head back upstairs to write the column they planned to type before the game went final. Alright, that might be what Cohn does. But most reporters go in like carpet bombers, asking as many questions as possible. It’s a chaotic scene. The prominent players aren’t all at their lockers, making themselves available for questions at the same time. So the journalists who are serious about getting information go to whoever’s available and ask whatever they can while competing with other reporters for each athlete’s time.
Most reporters — the ones who know who all the players are, anyway — tailor their questions to the person they’re interviewing. Sounds crazy, but it’s true!
None of the players are bothered by anything Kaepernick does or says in regards to his media obligations. It very well could be the subject of jokes and razzing behind closed doors, but his teammates would much rather have a quarterback who works hard and answers questions in a terse manner than a mediocre quarterback who shines in front of microphones and cameras while treating columnists like old pals.
And despite what some people write, the reporters who spend the most time around Kaepernick aren’t angry with him. They may not look forward to his interviews, but the 49ers always seem to provide plenty of stories — even without a quarterback who fills up notebooks.
Kaepernick is young, and he has gotten as far as he has because he stubbornly refuses to let outside forces convince him that he isn’t good enough. Part of his appeal comes from looking different both on the field and off, but those who believe they know a quarterback when they see one after all these years feel shortchanged and disrespected. Kaepernick’s hard edges will probably soften as time goes on, and he may even get better at pretending to enjoy his “media obligations” as he realizes that following the path of least resistance is the most prudent course of action. Until then, his attitude will remain the subject of choice for writers who’d rather write columns based on what they see and feel in the interview room, instead of wasting valuable time trying to understand how or what Kaepernick is doing on the field beyond a quick glance at the box score.