San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was fined $11,025 following a Week 2 loss to the Chicago Bears for inappropriate language, specifically his alleged use of a racial slur. The fine and the 15-yard penalty he drew both fell under a change to unsportsmanlike conduct rules to penalize players for using the N-word on the field. Kaepernick maintained he did not use the N-word, and on Wednesday, an arbitrator agreed. Kaepernick, however, was still fined $5,512 for a reason he and others don't quite understand.
Kaepernick: "If you're going to say I used a racial slur and come back and say I didn't say it, then I don't know what I'm being fined for."— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) October 15, 2014
Our union is disappointed that the fine of @Kaepernick7 was not eliminated given the finding there was no racial slur used.— George Atallah (@GeorgeAtallah) October 15, 2014
So why was his fine only cut in half instead of eliminated entirely? Ted Cottrell, the arbitrator appointed by the NFL and NFLPA to decide appeals, determined there was still a violation of the rule.
Ted Cottrell, who heard Kaepernick appeal, noted there was a "clear violation of the rule" but no evidence that "clearly shows" racial slur.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) October 15, 2014
The NFL didn't implement a new rule just to penalize the use of racial slurs. Instead, as the Washington Post noted, the league used the existing unsportsmanlike conduct rule with an added emphasis to ban racial slurs. Formally, under Section 3 and Article 1 of the NFL rulebook, the use of "abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures to opponents, teammates, officials, or representatives of the League" is considered unsportsmanlike conduct. Video of the incident appears to show Kaepernick telling Bears defensive lineman Lamarr Houston to "back the f--- up!"
Could that be considered "abusive, threatening or insulting language"? Yeah, probably. But, the NFL could likely fine more than 50 percent of players for similar incidents every single game. Kaepernick wasn't penalized and fined for using the F-word; he was fined for allegedly using a racial slur. Except he didn't. Or at least there isn't evidence that "clearly shows" he did, according to the NFL.
It's great the NFL wants to try and eliminate its players from using racial slurs on the field. There will even be times when mistakes happen and players are incorrectly penalized. Trying to decipher what a player -- possibly wearing a mouthpiece -- says in a stadium with blaring music and 50,000 fans or more isn't exactly an easy job. The league has a system in place to eradicate those errors when they happen, as was apparently the case in this situation. Instead of wiping out the fine and admitting no harm, no foul, however, the NFL still fined Kaepernick for something that plenty of other players do without penalty, even Tom Brady. Just another instance of the NFL being the NFL.
For Kaepernick's part, he seems to be taking the bizarre ruling in stride. He posted the picture below with the caption "The face you make when the NFL says you didn't use a racial slur and still fines you $5500? *shrugs* back to my grind!"