By Kyle Mannisi, Opinions Editor

Colin Kaepernick is just 29 years old, yet his athletic career has likely already reached its end. He didn’t cheat, he did not take performance enhancing drugs, was not accused of any heinous crimes like domestic abuse or murder. Kaepernick simply sat on the bench, rather than standing during the playing of the national anthem, in silent protest against police brutality and racial injustice.

His actions went unnoticed for two preseason games, only gaining media attention when an unrelated twitter photo from a team reporter showed Kaepernick sitting during the anthem at the third preseason game of 2016. After the game he spoke with reporters, explaining that he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

In the weeks that followed, teammates and fellow NFL players showed solidarity with Kaepernick by kneeling during the anthem, but not without rebuke from their sponsors. Brandon Marshall, a linebacker for the Denver Broncos, lost a sponsorship with CenturyLink and a Colorado credit union after kneeling during a regular season game.

Kaepernick is now a man without a team: a free agent. In his most recent season he posted a 90.7 QB passer rating and threw 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions, despite being surrounded by the controversy of his protest all season long.

Marshawn Lynch, Cam Newton, Michael Bennett, and many other prolific NFL players agree that Kaepernick has the talent to win, but team owners are boxing him out because of his protests. Aaron Rodgers told reporters that it would be “ignorant” to believe that Kaepernick’s unemployment had nothing to do with his activism.

Earlier this year, statistics website “FiveThirtyEight” analyzed free agent data, concluding that “it’s obvious Kaepernick is being frozen out for his political opinions,” adding that it was “extraordinary… that a player like him can’t find a team.”

Jay Cutler, former quarterback of the Chicago Bears, signed a $10 million contract with the Miami Dolphins in August. Cutler has not played a full season since 2009 and threw only four touchdowns in the 2016 season, and yet he still landed a position on a starting roster before Kaepernick did. Not only is Kaepernick talented enough to play, he is popular enough, too. His 49er’s jersey is selling extremely well online, making him the only player on the top 50 that is not on a roster.

The NFL argues that Kaepernick’s unemployment is justified, suggesting that his protests are too controversial for team owners to handle. This change of heart is surprising, considering previous years in which teams have happily awarded multi-million dollar contracts to convicted criminals with offenses ranging from animal abuse to domestic violence and rape.

The owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, signed Michael Vick in 2009 after his 23 month prison sentence for running a dogfighting ring. According to Lurie, Vick’s case is different because “there was a complete vetting of: ‘How is he as a teammate? What is his character? What is his potential? What is his football intelligence? Can he be a backup?’”

Somehow, Kaepernick has not proven to Lurie that he meets these criteria. In 2016 alone, Kaepernick won a prestigious character award from his 49er’s teammates and donated almost a million dollars of his own money to charities that fight oppression.

As an organization, the NFL is able to extract an obscene amount of wealth from the labor of black men, who make up over 70 percent of players in the league. It makes sense for the NFL to try to silence Kaepernick. He threatens to weaken their grip on their most profitable employees.

The only thing that is keeping Kaepernick off of a professional football team is his activism on behalf of people of color, simply stated. Kaepernick by all accounts, is a genuinely good guy, yet the NFL and team owners have vilified him for standing up for what he believes in. Many players who have done heinous things have gotten their misdeeds swept under the rug and given the chance to play for the NFL, yet Kaepernick is being boxed out.

Many players have joined his protest, and owners are scared that he might inspire even more athletes if they give him back his platform.

The Baltimore Ravens have recently shown a small amount of interest, but Kaepernick has likely played his last game in the league. He seemed to acknowledge this, as early as the first time he was asked about his protests. Despite the possible consequences, Kaepernick dug in, saying “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick’s conviction and determination will land him in museums and history books, and it will not have anything to do with a touchdown.