This week, Colin Kaepernick returns to Madden NFL as a top-level free agent, according to an announcement by Electronic Arts on Tuesday. This is following a summer of anti-racism protests, stimulating a renewed interest in Kaepernick’s political activism.
Kaepernick’s return to Madden sees him featured as a playable character in the game’s ‘Franchise’ and ‘Play Now’ modes. This marks his first appearance in the popular video game series in four years. In 2016, the NFL blacklisted Kaepernick after the quarterback started kneeling during the US national anthem to protest police brutality and racial oppression.
EA lost their right to Kaepernick’s likeness after his removal from a licensing agreement with the NFL Players Association. However, this past summer, EA Sports and Kaepernick worked together to negotiate his return. Sources suggest Kaepernick had a “hands-on” role in the portrayal of his avatar. His requests included that his player wears an Afro and performs a Black Power salute as his signature celebration.
As Kaepernick returns to Madden, there have been ongoing protests and discussions on racism and police brutality. In the last few months, neither the gaming industry nor the professional sporting world has been left untouched by these events.
In June, Epic Games announced the removal of police imagery from Fortnite. EA has also pledged $1 million to organisations fighting racial injustice. Following pressure from athletes and fans, NFL officials have shown signs of engagement with the issues raised by Kaepernick. In a recent interview, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell directly addressed Kaepernick’s protests, saying, “I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about”. Goodell’s comments appeared the same day that Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, was shot in the back seven times by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Reactions to EA’s announcement have been mostly positive, with some suggesting Kaepernick’s return was long overdue. But not all Madden fans are happy. Some social media users have accused EA of ‘pandering’ to BLM and unnecessarily bringing politics into a video game. Others suggest the announcement aimed to distract from the game’s poor user response. Shortly after its release, Madden NFL 21 became one of the worst user-rated games on Metacritic. Given his lengthy absence from professional sports, Kaepernick’s high in-game ranking has also been questioned.
With forthcoming projects including a memoir and a Netflix mini-series, Kaepernick won’t be disappearing from the public imagination any time soon. And while he is yet to return to the real football field, for now, fans of the athlete and activist can at least see a virtual version of him perform on their screens.
Madden NFL 21 is available now on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.
Words by Gemma Laws.
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