NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained notoriety during the 2016 season for kneeling during the US national anthem to protest police brutality. Probably not coincidentally, he's been an unsigned free agent since the end of that season, too.
He's also been absent from the Madden NFL series since 2017, but as of today that's no longer the case: Kaepernick is now available as a free agent for new franchises in Madden NFL 21 (opens in new tab)'s Franchise Mode, and is in fact that highest-rated free agent quarterback in the game.
pic.twitter.com/R2agq5B64pSeptember 8, 2020
"Based on Kaepernick’s prior on-the-field performance, combined with our data-driven EA Sports ratings simulations, Kaepernick is an 81 OVR, which takes into account that he has not taken the field since 2016," EA explained in a blog post (opens in new tab). "When Kaepernick was a healthy starting quarterback he was rated 89, 89, 81 overall and known for his strong touchdown-to-interception ratio, mobility, and playoff performances."
Madden 21's The Yard mode will also make the "Nike Kaepernick Icon Jersey 2.0" free for all players, and he'll also have his own unique in-game celebration: "Following a big play or touchdown, you will see Kaepernick raise his fist as a symbol of Black Power when you choose to celebrate with him, as he did during his last season."
According to The Undefeated (opens in new tab), Kaepernick was excluded from the Madden games from 2018-20 because, as an unsigned free agent, he was not included in the group licensing agreement negotiated by the NFL Players Association, which meant that EA did not have the right to use his likeness. Controversially, Kaepernick's name was also edited out of a track (opens in new tab) in the Madden 19 soundtrack, which EA later said was an "unfortunate mistake" caused by a misunderstanding of the rights situation.
While Kaepernick remains unsigned by the NFL, EA approached him directly about returning to the Madden series this year. He was reportedly "hands-on" in determining how he would be presented in the game, including that he be depicted with an Afro (he has cornrows in his Madden 2017 image) and that his Black Power fist be included as his celebration move.
EA didn't comment specifically on the timing of Kaepernick's return, but attitudes toward the protest movement he spurred in 2016 have changed dramatically in recent months: The shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha spurred a strike action by NBA (opens in new tab) and WNBA (opens in new tab) players (although WNBA Players Association president Nneka Ogwumike said in statement that it was not actually a strike but "a day of reflection"), led to the postponement of MLB (opens in new tab) and NHL (opens in new tab) games, and the cancellation of several NFL (opens in new tab) practice sessions. NBA 2K publisher 2K Sports said at the time (opens in new tab) that "we strongly support the players and the leagues using their platform to demonstrate against the shooting of Jacob Blake."
To mark Kaepernick's return to the Madden NFL series, Madden NFL 21 will be free to play from September 10-13.