Ron Agostini: Colin Kaepernick’s mistake leaves him in vulnerable spot

ragostini@modbee.comApril 11, 2014 

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) takes the field before the beginning of the game against the Indianapolis Colts in a game at Candlestick Park on Sunday September 22, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. 2013 Showcase

PAUL KITAGAKI JR. — pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Many questions still are left unanswered about the strange episode involving Colin Kaepernick, two fellow football players and the woman in that hotel room in Miami.

My hunch is that a few of these questions never will be answered. No charges have been filed. Police investigate and information dribbles out in a predictably slow pace.

Rather than speculate, let’s react to the facts as we know them: Kaepernick has done himself no favors. Even if he’s not accused of anything more than bad judgment, he has stained his formerly squeaky-clean image. Above all this, of course, remains the condition of the woman who blacked out in the room and awoke in a hospital.

Look, I would have loved to have found out what it’s like to be a wealthy, unmarried athlete in Miami when I was 26.

Then again, maybe not.

Life can get complicated in a hurry when you’re the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, one of the bluebloods of the mighty NFL, and your personal life is revealed in less than flattering ways. I don’t think Kaepernick, the phenom out of Pitman High and the University of Nevada, has yet totally grasped the full measure of his status in the sports world.

Please note that the headlines on publications and websites streaming across the country do not spell out “Lockette,” for the Seattle Seahawks’ Ricardo Lockette, or “Patton,” the 49ers’ young receiver Quinton Patton. No, they say, “Kaepernick,” because he’s one of the most exciting players in the NFL. His jersey flies off store shelves. He’s the face of a team that has been to the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship Game before he’s logged two full seasons at quarterback.

That’s why, fair or not, he’s also the face of a tawdry incident of which we’re still learning. Kaepernick already is rich, and soon will have more cash than he can count. But with this comes responsibility. He does not place himself in the most favorable light with behavior veering toward fraternity row.

Hearing Kaepernick’s version of events, one of the many unknowns of this case, would be instructive. He has dismissed what has been said about him as “completely wrong” via Twitter and defended his character. He correctly blasted TMZ.com for labeling the story as “a sexual assault,” which is not the case to date.

Until now, he has earned credit points for his exemplary deportment off the field. His loyalty to Pitman and his outreach to Camp Taylor, the local organization that assists children with heart disease, have been generous and no less than noble. It was not a surprise when Camp Taylor jumped to its hero’s defense online Friday.

I’ve also witnessed firsthand his tight relationship with his family. Such affection cannot be faked or buried in spin.

Kaepernick has marketed himself as a 21st-century sports star, one who connects directly with his fans via Twitter and Instagram, sometimes at the expense of more traditional media. He’s edgy, hip and now. His endorsement portfolio – Jaguar, Beats by Dre, McDonald’s, Electronic Arts, EA and Muscle-Pharm – follows that arc. Young fans idolize him.

Which is all good except when it’s not. Instant media also can work against you in a heartbeat. If his football career can end with a misstep, it also can be altered with a misstep off the field.

OK, I already can hear your argument: Chill, please. It was three men and a woman, all young adults, having a party. They were in that room by choice. Move along. Nothing to see here. It’s called human nature.

My answer: Yes. I get it. But when you’re involved in a story that includes the words “shots,” “marijuana” and “woman wakes up in a hospital,” you’ve put yourself in a compromising and vulnerable place.

The 49ers are thinking about paying him between $18 million and $20 million per year. For Kaepernick, the timing is not good. The 49ers do not need a quarterback they can’t trust. The team will use this as leverage in contract negotiations. Bank on it. They might even draft a quarterback, which would be a personal shot across the bow. All these things are in play when your reputation takes a hit.

Kaepernick has brought great joy and pride to the Valley, and his success is deserved. I don’t want this incident to be anything more for him than an unforced error.

But we haven’t yet reached that point.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports.

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