You’ll be forgiven if you’re surprised that I’ve been paying attention to the start of this year’s football season. No doubt, Boston fans have it circled on their calendars, because the kickoff game is this Thursday night, when the Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m not a football fan, so I don’t really care about that game. No — I’ve been checking team rosters to see if Colin Kaepernick would get picked up by an NFL team.

The former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has been unemployed since last year after he began a personal protest, kneeling quietly during the playing of the pre-game national anthem. Kaepernick said he wished to bring attention to the spate of police killings of unarmed black men. “To me, this is bigger than football,” he said then. "There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” That’s what he said last season when he was playing football.

Reaction to his stance was swift and angry — fans burned his uniform, other players said he was letting his team down, owners pointed out he was paid to play football, and pundits speculated about his future. Despite his acknowledged talent as a quarterback and his victory leading his team to the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been playing football. By the way, other players who joined Kaepernick last season in sitting down or kneeling are working. What’s more, some owners overlooked rape charges, domestic violence, and drunk driving histories to hire players with checkered criminal pasts.

Why were teams bypassing the clean-living Kaepernick? Political activists say the reason is simple — he’s been blackballed by the league because he took a stand for racial justice. I can’t prove it, but I agree. And so does Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who initially thought otherwise. Now Baldwin says, “I definitely think that the league, the owners, are trying to send a message of stay in between the lines.” In early August, 1,000 people demonstrated outside NFL headquarters against Kaepernick’s apparent blackballing. More than a few fans have urged marquee players to add their voices. Big ticket Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers did weigh in, telling ESPN The Magazine Kaepernick "should be on a roster," adding,“I think because of his protests, he’s not.”

If he never suits up again, Colin Kaepernick will join a long line of black athletes who’ve paid dearly for speaking their conscience. And that includes the beloved Muhammad Ali, who lost five of his prime boxing years when he was vocal about segregation and opposition to war. Like Ali, Kaepernick has kept the focus on his cause to stop police killings of unarmed black men. He pledged $1 million to various social justice organizations, and has already given away $800,000. And he committed without knowing if he’d ever get another football paycheck.

NAACP interim president and CEO Derrick Johnson has requested a meeting with the NFL in a letter, stating, “No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech.” True, but Colin Kaepernick knows better than anybody that his free speech gave him the right to protest, but not the right to a job in the NFL. As you hear this, Kaepernick may have been picked up. Sorry to say, it won’t be a brave decision, but likely a desperate move made because of the limited number of available players who are not already injured. This is the NFL, after all. Concussions may be common in football, but from where I sit, character and conscience — not so much.