Was adding Colin Kaepernick in Madden 21 performative activism?

If you haven’t heard, Colin Kaepernick was re-added to the free agent pool for Madden 21. EA Sports gave Colin Kaepernick an 81 overall QB rating, placing him in the top 15% of all the Madden 21 QBs. While that rating is a whole other discussion on its own, we’re here to talk about how and why Colin Kaepernick was reincluded in the game.

Was this move an olive branch – albeit a little too later? Or was it a positive PR injection into a mixed-feelings reception to this new Madden installment?

How Colin Kaepernick was reintroduced into Madden 21

Madden and Colin Kaepernick haven’t been directly linked since Madden 17. It was back in Aug. 14, 2016 that Kaepernick first sat for the national anthem in protest – kneeling in later games – to bring awareness to the rampant police brutality targeting African Americans in the United States.

Since Kaepernick’s blacklisting from the NFL, his naming rights and likeness have been omitted from the game. These rights are typically negotiated through the NFL Players Association, but it seems that EA Sports reached out to Colin Kaepernick to see about his re-inclusion in Madden 21. He was reported to be heavily involved in the creation of his in-game avatar, the portrait used, and what he wanted his signature celebration to be whenever his in-game player scores a touchdown.

colin kaepernick madden 21

Why Colin Kaepernick was reintroduced

It’s shady having Colin Kaepernick’s likeness removed from the game for four years. Kaepernick’s name was also censored off two songs in the Madden soundtrack over the past couple years. He has been a touchy subject for both the NFL and the Madden franchise due to his protesting of police brutality. Now that Black Lives Matter is in the forefront of public discourse with the increased mobilization of grassroots activism, is Madden bringing Kaepernick into the game to capitalize on the press?

If the intentions are sincere and come from a good place, where was his support when he first sat? Where was Madden to elevate the messaging that he was trying to convey for all these years? The timing doesn’t quite make sense from a well-intentioned mindset, and seems to be a desperate play to take away from the lack of changes included in the game. Let’s be real: Madden has recycled content year-after-year, with few additions to the single player experience, and only minor changes to multiplayer. While you can only do so much to improve a real life sports game, there are plenty of liberties that could be taken in the digital space.

Just as a mental exercise, lets tackle some ways Madden could’ve elevated Kaepernick’s message, even though they haven’t until conveniently now:

  • Colin Kaepernick’s protest could have been acknowledged and highlighted by in-game commentators instead of ignored.
  • In-game interviews with Colin Kaepernick’s avatar with a sideline reporter giving him a platform to say his piece.
  • Matching prize pool winnings of Madden esports tournaments to local black charities and initiatives. They can afford it, given that they gross millions off yearly versions of the game.

Is this performative activism?

Performative activism is activism to display empathy or a stake in the game, when really, their heart’s not truly for the cause. It’s companies making general PR blanket statement showing support for a cause, while not addressing the issue at all.

In EA Sports and Madden 21’s case, adding a player that has been snubbed for years isn’t activism. It’s an empty gesture in an attempt to indicate that a corporation cares about its customers and their moral values. If this was something EA truly cared about, they should’ve done this years ago. There’s a difference between being a leader and a follower.

There has been zero risk from EA Sports to put Colin Kaepernick in the game, while he risked his career to bring attention to a very serious issue going on in his country. The timing of this screams of corporate opportunism, given the political climate in 2020.

ea charity donations

While EA Sports touts their branded initiatives and donations, it seems disingenuous given the amount of revenue the entire company generates yearly. It also seems unfair that EA employees donate their own salaries so that EA can create their own trophy to display on their website.

While fans can want all sorts of things as far as content for their games is concerned, it shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a lot if they’re going to make an attempt at supporting a humanitarian cause. Not a lot of people are screaming for Colin Kaepernick’s re-inclusion in the game, but if you’re going to bring him back to show support and solidarity, maybe actually support and elevate the cause.

How can I help?

Not everyone is in the financial situation to donate to charities and local initiatives, but if you can, consider doing your research into helping a cause close to your heart and interests. Remember to educate yourself, support, elevate, and amplify the voices that need to be heard. Genuine efforts can always enact true change, regardless of what scale you work on.

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Aja Jones

Writer from Toronto, Canada. Can taste the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Learned how to play drums through Rock Band. Named after a Steely Dan album.
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