Colin Kaepernick hits the field in Madden NFL 21 without actual NFL deal

Colin Kaepernick may not be a part of today's NFL, but today the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback makes his return to the Madden NFL series. Publisher Electronic Arts has announced that Kaepernick will be available to play later today in Madden NFL 21's Franchise and Play Now modes, where he can be put in charge of any team in the league. Kaepernick last appeared in Madden NFL 17, which came out shortly after he famously kneeled in protest during the playing of the national anthem before a 2016 preseason game. When Kaepernick became a free agent the next season, he was no longer part of the collective licensing agreement EA arranged with the NFL Players Association and thus did not appear in subsequent Madden NFL titles.

This year, though, The Undefeated reports that EA reached out directly to Kaepernick to negotiate individual rights to his likeness in Madden NFL 21. Kaepernick was reportedly "hands-on" in the negotiations, insisting on his in-game avatar sporting an Afro and raising a "Black Power" fist as his in-game celebration.
Kaepernick reportedly has an overall rating of 81/100 in the game, a number "determined by data-driven simulations that took his ongoing free agency into account," as The Undefeated puts it. That puts Kaepernick in the top 15 out of 111 quarterbacks included in the game. Players will be able to edit Kaepernick's stats in Franchise mode.

"Colin Kaepernick is one of the top free agents in football and a starting-caliber quarterback," EA writes. "The Team at EA Sports, along with millions of Madden NFL fans, want to see him back in our game."
"Knowing that our EA Sports experiences are platforms for players to create, we want to make Madden NFL a place that reflects Colin's position and talent, rates him as a starting QB, and empowers our fans to express their hopes for the future of football," the statement continues. "We've worked with Colin to make this possible, and we're excited to bring it to all of you today."

A unique one-off
Kaepernick's individual deal for inclusion in Madden NFL is relatively unprecedented in the history of sports video games for an unsigned free agent. When inactive players are included in a sports simulation's lineup, it's most often as part of a limited lineup of retired veterans available as part of an "all-time greats" package (or a player-created roster containing similar).

Active players are occasionally able to negotiate individual licensing deals for their video game likenesses separate from their players' associations—16-bit "classics" like Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City and Shaq Fu are the result of such deals. But an individual licensing deal for a free agent is generally unheard of in the world of sports games. Kaepernick has maintained a high profile during his free agency, bringing a lawsuit against NFL team owners for allegedly colluding to keep him from earning a living with the league (that lawsuit ended in a settlement last year). In June, though, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly encouraged any NFL team to hire Kaepernick if it desires, seemingly ensuring that Kaepernick's inclusion in Madden NFL wouldn't endanger EA's now non-exclusive license with the league.

Back in 2018, EA was forced to apologize after Kaepernick's name was censored from the in-game versions of two rap songs in the Madden NFL 19 soundtrack. "We messed up, and the edit should never have happened," EA said at the time before restoring the lyrics in an update. "We have had a long relationship with Colin through Madden NFL and worked through our past soundtrack mistakes," the company said in a statement today

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