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What every discussion of Colin Kaepernick has forgotten

Colin Kaepernick has had an interesting NFL season so far, and this week the narrative took yet another twist.

Kaepernick entered the eternal national debate on race relations in August by refusing to stand for the National Anthem because he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

The United States has been debating race relations since the colonial era. We argued over whether slaves should be 3/5 of a person or an entire person or not a person at all, we had a big debate with guns and uniforms in the 1860’s, there was another debate with fire hoses and lunch counters in the 1950’s, and today this debate continues with body cameras and lives mattering. I’m not sure this will ever end.

Kaepernick’s protest incensed conservative football watchers and some football executives. These are executives who, I’d speculate, don’t care about patriotism as much as they care about looking hyper-American to keep conservative football watchers watching their games.

This week’s twist: Kaepernick did not vote in the Presidential election. He lives in California, a forgone conclusion in the election anyway, but people are mad about the message it sends.

This morning I overheard the conversation of several old guys (mid 60’s, probably retired) who thought Kaepernick was stupid. They used this word. The guy leading this conversation didn’t make any argument about political impact, didn’t say anything about the conservative moral narrative about minority violence, and didn’t mention the liberal moral narrative about equity governing.

He probably was just saying “I disagree with him” but was searching for a word that sounds more powerful. With “stupid,” he can demonstrate to his conservative friends that he is super double dog conservative. Any regular old super single dog conservative would say they disagree. Only the most super double dog conservative would think that Kaepernick is stupid.

Factcheck to the rescue: Colin Kaepernick scored a 38 on the Wonderlic intelligence exam.

Wonderlic is an intelligence exam the NFL uses at the annual Combine. Head coaches receive this, along with dozens of other statistics gathered that day, to help decide players for the draft. The combine, really, is just one giant standardized test for football players.

12 minutes, 50 questions, averaged at 20, standard deviation probably somewhere around 8. Nobody expects test takers to even finish all the questions, and essentially nobody scores within 5 of perfect. A score above 10 generally indicates being functionally literate.

Kaepernick scored a 38. A thirty-eight. Many words can describe Colin Kaepernick, but stupid is not one of them.

He scores in the 98th percentile on this test. If 100 people stood around in a room, he would be smarter than 98 of them. Only 2 would beat him. According to their website, Kaepernick could be admitted to Mensa with this score. Mensa, that one group with membership restricted to geniuses only.

This breaks the usual stereotypes about the intelligence of

  • black men,
  • professional football players, and
  • black men who play professional football.

This may seem minor — really it is minor compared to the entire debate about race relations — but it may serve some people right to recognize that “I disagree with you” and “I am smarter than you” are two different arguments. In this case, assuming that that group of old guys were near average intelligence, these happened to be two very different arguments.


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