By now, you've probably heard that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick caused a stir on Fourth of July weekend by wearing a Miami Dolphins hat. If you’ve had internet access in the past few days, you’ve probably seen that debate rage on in more than one place.
For those who still argue that the fashion statement isn’t news, I’ll point you to the 350-plus comments on the original Bleacher Report article on the matter. That’s good for the most commented 49ers article on this site in quite a long time, as you can clearly see on the Bleacher Report 49ers home page.
The point of these numbers is simple: the real story behind Kap’s cap is in the public eye, regardless of personal opinion on the matter. One way or another, people seem to care about the story, and in the modern market, that’s what drives the news.
As someone who studied public relations in college and spent time working for a PR Firm, I find it safe to say that Kaepernick’s handling of the situation has left a lot to be desired out of a franchise quarterback. The young superstar should have tried to let the controversy blow over, but he instead decided to further instigate his critics with a second photo of the infamous hat on his Instagram account.
In fact, in the days since, the only thing that’s really making this story newsworthy is Kaepernick’s continued bravado regarding the topic. The QB finally released a new photo on Monday in 49ers red and gold, but by this point the damage had been done.
I’m not even calling for Kaepernick to apologize, and I don’t find it necessary for him to do so. However, what's perplexing is how he continues to address the topic defiantly rather than letting it fade out into cyberspace. After all, what would you stand to gain by poking the fire as it's dying?
With that in mind, the issue here can be found in Kaepernick’s public relations strategy or apparent lack thereof. Say what you want about the PR-dominated society we live in today, but there are ways to say and do the right things and not sound like a scripted recording.
As far as PR “scandals” go, this is a blip on the radar, but it’s not completely insignificant. This is a player who will very likely be rewarded with a massive contract after this season and is quickly becoming the new face of a storied franchise. With that designation comes representing the organization that writes your checks, including a level of respect for your employer and your fans.
For example, have you ever spotted Derek Jeter ever wearing a San Francisco Giants hat? Or have you ever seen Tim Duncan sporting Chicago Bulls headwear? These are two masters of sports PR and public image, and Kap could gain a lot by following their examples.
ESPN’s Herm Edwards and Ron Jaworski recently commented on the issue as well, which can be seen in this video. Neither was particularly forgiving toward Kap's handling of the situation, and Edwards also offered this quote, according to Pro Football Talk:
Steve Young and Joe Montana wouldn’t do that. They get it. You’re the quarterback. You are the face of the franchise, and whether you like it or not, on the field or off the field, you’ve got to act that way.
However, Kaepernick can be forgiven for a little naiveté. After all, his meteoric rise has left him very little time to grow. He went from a small-conference college quarterback and second-round pick to a Super Bowl starter in two years, with a full season on the bench in between. He’s facing a spotlight hotter than he’s ever had before, so maybe this can be attributed to simple growing pains.
In the end, this all comes down to professionalism vs. youthful immaturity. He isn’t just Colin Kaepernick the football player anymore; he’s Colin Kaepernick the brand, and he needs to treat his actions as such. Fans get ticked off at petty things, and that won’t change any time soon. But learn from the small mistakes so you can avoid the big ones later.
So next time, Colin, grab a Miami Marlins hat if you want to rock some green and orange. If not, let’s be real, they make Yankees hats in every color under the sun. It’s great that the blogosphere doesn’t phase you, but save your publicist a headache or two.
You’ve got options, Kap. Use them.