HAYWARD, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid packed up their cleats and footballs, headed off the field and paused, politely letting the Cal State East Bay women’s soccer team jog past to start its own Tuesday morning practice.
Instead of participating in a NFL team’s offseason program, the former 49ers teammates are staying in shape, hoping for an opportunity that’s eluded Kaepernick for over a year and Reid the past 21/2 months.
“We’re not doing interviews,” Kaepernick told me politely. “We’re just here getting in a workout.”
This was a glimpse into what solitary confinement looks like for NFL outcasts: Drills with an unidentified trainer on a secluded field surrounded by empty stands. No NFL coaches or scouts were in sight. A few students, on their way to class, peered down to the field and snapped pictures for their Instagram stories.
As the Bay Area fog started to clear atop this East Bay campus, Kaepernick’s and Reid’s careers are increasingly cloudy.
Having covered both players’ 49ers tenures in their entirety, they were cordial when I approached them after their workout. Yet they did not break stride as I asked questions.
I hadn’t seen Kaepernick in person since he cleared out his 49ers locker on Jan. 2, 2017, and as I told him it was good to see him again, he said the same, then was gone.
I’m well versed in when Kaepernick and Reid want to talk. Much of the dialogue since 2016 has revolved around their passionate pursuit of social equality and police reform.
Tuesday’s agenda did not include any desire to promote through the media their workouts the past two days at Cal State East Bay.
Last week, Reid followed Kaepernick’s October lead to pursue a collusion case against the NFL for remaining on the free-agent market.
Neither Reid nor Kaepernick wanted to discuss their legal pursuits when I broached the topic Tuesday as we climbed the steps out of Cal State East Bay’s stadium. Reid is reportedly using the same attorney as Kaepernick, Mark Geragos.
On Monday, the NFL Players Association filed a grievance on Reid’s behalf, noting that one team, believed to be the Cincinnati Bengals, was out of line asking during last month’s free-agency visit if he’d continue to kneel during the national anthem.
When I asked them how Tuesday’s workout went, Reid joked: “I should have been a receiver,” presumably referring to him catching passes from Kaepernick rather than how he’s stuck in a free-agent market that has frowned on other veteran safeties beside him.
Reid hasn’t been in hiding. He lives in nearby Fremont and has been working out at Bay Area gyms, as seen from videos of his weight-lifting exploits on social media. A couple months back, he showed up at Stanford’s pre-draft workout to watch his brother, Justin, a fellow safety who was the Houston Texans’ top draft pick (third round, on April 27).
Kaepernick has lived much of the past 1 1/2 years in New York, about as far and different as possible from his Turlock hometown. He opted out of his 2017 contract with the 49ers some 14 months ago, and while no team has officially worked him out, his 6-foot-4 frame looks as fit as it did during his 2012 ascension to the 49ers starting role and eventual Super Bowl berth.
Kaepernick said he’d appreciate if I kept the location private, but when practicing on a public college’s campus with social-media savvy students, discretion is a tall order. That’s especially true when you’re one of the most recognizable figures in American society, and perhaps globally, seeing how Kaepernick won Amnesty International’s top human rights honor (the Ambassador of Conscience Award) that Reid presented to him in Amsterdam last month.
While Kaepernick and Reid are as active as ever in demanding social equality and educating others, their desire to play football apparently hasn’t waned.
Kaepernick wouldn’t say if he’s willing to pursue other football leagues, instead reiterating he didn’t want to be interviewed Tuesday. His 49ers tenure is becoming a distant memory, having closed with him losing 10 of the final 11 starts (on a historically bad team) for an overall 37-31-1 mark.
Kaepernick’s job now belongs to new 49ers savior Jimmy Garoppolo, by way of Blaine Gabbert, Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard.
A lot has changed since Kaepernick stole the NFL’s spotlight with the 2012 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl and a near comeback in that finale. Playoff wins followed the next year at Green Bay and Carolina before a NFC Championship Game loss at Seattle, before a 2015 midseason benching and subsequent shoulder surgery, and before he sat then knelt during the anthem in 2016 to outrage some and inspire others.
Kaepernick and Reid looked at ease on Tuesday. They looked proud of putting in quality work, the type worthy of earning a paycheck or simply a chance to fight for a roster spot somewhere other than on a peaceful, Bay Area campus.