RIVERDALE, Ga. — Colin Kaepernick’s lengthy journey from Super Bowl quarterback to N.F.L. exile to media machine made a pit cease at Charles R. Drew High School south of Atlanta on Saturday.
There, in shorts and a black tank high, the previous San Francisco 49ers star zipped passes to 4 receivers working routes on the soccer discipline. Eight N.F.L. scouts appeared on, one among them later calling the efficiency “impressive.” As the solar light and the temperature dropped, a pair hundred individuals stood alongside a chain-link fence behind one finish zone and cheered.
“Stay focused, man! We believe in you!” one fan yelled.
The query lately is who to imagine. Part N.F.L. tryout, half public rally, half media circus, the impromptu exercise was put collectively in a couple of hours after a contentious week of negotiations between the quarterback and the league. It was the newest twist in a showdown that has captivated the sports activities world since Kaepernick started kneeling through the nationwide anthem at first of the 2016 season.
After signing autographs for followers, many carrying his 49ers jersey, Kaepernick returned to the sector and spoke to the media for the primary time in years.
“I’ve been prepared for three years, I’ve been denied for three years and you all know why,” Kaepernick stated. “I’ve been ready. I’m staying ready.”
Then he piled right into a van and drove off, leaving as many, if no more, questions on his future as there have been when he started the day. Some of the scouts appeared impressed, however does any staff need the eye that’s more likely to include signing Kaepernick? His arm appeared sturdy, however at this level within the season, which staff wants him? And on and on.
As with a lot of the quarterback’s current interactions with the league, Saturday’s exercise was the results of unhealthy blood poured on unhealthy blood. On Tuesday, the league referred to as Kaepernick’s agent and gave him two hours to accept an offer for Kaepernick to work out at the Falcons’ training facility an hour north of Atlanta in front of all 32 teams — the same 32 teams that have declined to invite him to work out for the past three seasons.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, egged on by Jay-Z, the music impresario who is now advising the league on social justice issues, offered the olive branch to Kaepernick so the teams could see for themselves whether the 32-year-old quarterback still has the skills to play in the N.F.L.
Nike, which works with both Kaepernick and the N.F.L., was all set to run an advertisement featuring the quarterback. Unlike the “Dream Crazy” commercial that ran during the opening telecast of last season, the N.F.L. approved this one.
The ad did not run on Saturday afternoon as planned.
The distrust between the league and Kaepernick is profound and perhaps irreversible. In 2017, Kaepernick accused the league of blackballing him because of his decision to kneel during the national anthem. The two sides settled their differences when the N.F.L. paid Kaepernick a multimillion-dollar settlement in February.
The legal matter settled, teams were freed up to call him. Yet no teams did.
Then, out of the blue, the league offered Kaepernick a one-time chance to show his stuff.
“Something didn’t smell right,” Jeff Nalley, Kaepernick’s agent, said after the workout.
The two sides fought over whether Kaepernick would be provided a list of which N.F.L. personnel would be present. They tussled over whether media would be allowed to watch, and over whether Kaepernick could bring his own film crew to the workout.
The final straw was, as it is with so many things involving the N.F.L., a legal affair. Kaepernick and the four receivers signed standard waivers that indemnified the league if they got injured. The N.F.L. sent back a far longer form with a number of other restrictions. Kaepernick’s lawyers rejected what they called an “unusual liability waiver” as a precondition.
At 2:30 p.m. Eastern time, with about two dozen scouts waiting at the Falcons’ facility, Kaepernick announced that the workout would be moved to a high school an hour away. Many scouts threw up their arms and headed straight to the airport. Dozens of reporters and cameramen drove south to the high school field.
Kaepernick arrived around 4:10 p.m. and drove onto the field of the outdoor stadium. The high school, just outside Atlanta, is about 60 miles southwest of the Falcons’ facility.
He came out and stretched, joked with friends and hugged his former teammate Eric Reid, who knelt with Kaepernick when they played for the 49ers. Reid plays for the Carolina Panthers.
While the vibe at the high school was friendly, with cheers and encouragement, the crowd in front of the Falcons’ facility earlier on Saturday was mixed, with protesters on both sides of the main entrance to the Falcons’ practice facility.
On one side, Jim McIntyre stood with a wooden sign that said “Stand Up For the Flag” that he and his wife made the night before. McIntyre, who lives in town, said he supported Kaepernick’s right to free speech but believed his form of protest was disrespectful to the flag, despite Kaepernick’s assertions to the contrary.
McIntyre said he stopped watching N.F.L. games when Kaepernick and other players began kneeling because it made him uncomfortable. “I really wish the N.F.L. would have a policy to make players stand for the anthem,” he said.
On the other side of the entrance, Scott Brooks sat in a lawn chair holding a handwritten sign that read “I’m With Kap.” Brooks drove two hours from Tennessee to show his support. Wearing Kaepernick’s red 49ers jersey, he said that he agreed with the quarterback’s goal of raising awareness of police brutality against African-Americans.
“I hate to see it overshadowed” by the controversy over his decision to kneel, Brooks said. “He lost his job for not even committing a crime.”
About two dozen alumni of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity also arrived to support Kaepernick, who was a member in college. They said they admired his willingness to kneel to shine a light on police brutality against African-Americans.
Some drivers slowed down and honked support, though it was often unclear who they were supporting.
Later at the high school, the only ambiguity was where Kaepernick will go next. Nalley, his agent, said he did not expect many clubs to call.
“I hope so, but to be honest, I’m a little pessimistic because I’ve talked to all 32 teams” already, he said, and none have offered Kaepernick a tryout.
Kaepernick added his own coda that suggests that Saturday’s tryout is only one chapter in an ongoing tug-of-war.
“I’m ready to go anywhere,” he said. “The ball’s in their court. We’re ready to go.”
Kevin Draper contributed reporting from New York.