Colin Kaepernick is making his return to the football field — as a playable character on the sport’s biggest video game, "Madden 21."
Game developer EA Sports announced that an update was released on Tuesday that allows players to add Kaepernick to any NFL lineup for the first time since 2016.
“Colin Kaepernick is one of the top free agents in football and a starting-caliber quarterback,” EA Sports said in a statement on Tuesday. “We look forward to seeing Colin on Madden NFL teams everywhere.”
Kaepernick, 32, has been an unsigned, free agent player since he opted out of his contract in 2016 — the last NFL season he played as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. The athlete made headlines that year for first sitting, then kneeling during the national anthem in protest against police brutality and racial injustice.
Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid, who was also on the 49ers then and joined in protest, settled their grievances with the NFL in February 2019 after the two players accused the league of colluding to exclude them for taking a knee.
The former 49ers player will be the top-rated, free agent quarterback available in "Madden 21" with an 81 overall rating, EA Sports said. EA Sports added that the rating was determined by his prior performance on the field, as well as the developer’s data-driven simulation ratings.
That ranks him among the top 15 highest-rated quarterbacks in the game out of 111 quarterbacks, surpassing signal-callers like Derek Carr, Ryan Tannehill, and Cam Newton.
When the company first approached Kaepernick, EA Sports said that their team worked with him to personalize his avatar. Following a big play or touchdown, Kaepernick can be seen raising his fist — a nod to the Black Power salute in protest against racial injustice.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told ESPN in June that he encouraged teams to sign Kaepernick.
“If he wants to resume his career in the NFL, then obviously it would take a team to make that decision,” Goodell said. “I welcome that, support a club making that decision and encourage them to do that.”
That same month, NFL players like New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins admonished Goodell’s statement for failing to adequately address how the NFL handled Kaepernick and his kneeling.
“Until they apologize, specifically, to Colin Kaepernick, or assign him to a team, I don’t think that they will end up on the right side of history,” Jenkins said.