Colin Kaepernick is back on a football field. Kind of.
The quarterback, who has not played in the NFL since 2016, will be playable in Electronic Arts Inc.’s EA, -4.48% popular “Madden 21” videogame through a software update. Though Kaepernick is still not on any actual NFL team’s roster, he will be available to add to any team in the game.
“The team at EA Sports, along with millions of Madden NFL fans, want to see him back in our game,” EA Sports said Tuesday on Twitter. “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. We’ve worked with Colin to make this possible, and we’re excited to bring it to all of you today.”
Since he’s no longer part of the NFL Players Association, EA reportedly negotiated directly with Kaepernick to add his likeness, which will include a “Black Power” salute when he scores a touchdown.
Kaepernick, then with the San Francisco 49ers, kicked off a social-justice movement in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic racism and inequality in America. He faced backlash from many, including President Donald Trump, and has not played since that season. He later sued the league, claiming teams colluded to keep him from playing again. That suit was settled in 2019 for reportedly less than $10 million.
Earlier this year, the NFL admitted it should have supported Kaepernick’s protests at the time. “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a video in June. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Goodell recently said he has “encouraged” NFL teams to sign Kaepernick, though none have.
Kaepernick, now 32, led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, and for a while was one of the league’s most dynamic players. And though he hasn’t seen action in four years, EA Sports gave him an 81 overall rating — a elite number that’s better than Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (78) and young Cardinals star Kyler Murray (77).
It’s quite a turnaround for EA, which controversially deleted a reference to Kaepernick in song lyrics featured in “Madden 19,” a move it apologized for at the time.
While Kaepernick’s NFL future is unclear — Packers legend Brett Favre, for one, says he still has the skills to play — his backstory will be made into a Netflix NFLX, -1.75% series directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay.