By Harold Goldberg
Colin Kaepernick is playing football again – in a crazy arcade game that’s fun, punishing and addicting. I was antsy and nervous as I waited for Colin to talk Wild Card Football, waiting at a bar table at 8:45 am in the remodeled video game industry meeting temple, The Figueroa Hotel. Two nights before, the pool house hosted the crowded scene of an Microsoft party with Xbox head Phil Spencer and Bethesda head Todd Howard. But this morning, only bleary-eyed tourists hung around the bar. I tuned out their gloom and concentrated on memorizing questions.
I had some trepidation because any interview can go south at any moment. And I had a different angle for the quarterback who had dealt with so much strife due to a simple act of protest. During research, I found that Kaepernick was an A student in high school. Even after football, mentoring is important to him. He created the non-profit Know Your Rights Camp which fosters education “to advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities through education….” As it is here in NYC for the Circle’s Playing With Purpose programs, education and social justice are keys to Kaepernick’s life.
It was the first interview of a long day of interviews for the Super Bowl QB. I walked into a meeting room. He stood tall and straight as a hair person reached high to fuss over him. He was taller than expected, taller than Kobe Bryant. That analogy is appropriate because Kobe gave back as well. And like Kobe was when I spoke with him, Colin is extraordinarily affable. He may have been slightly more subdued that Kobe, but you can tell the former 49er can be a people person. He’s ready to set anyone at ease who’s a bit overwhelmed by his stature in the world, which has gone beyond football to the culture at large.
But while we were playing Wild Card Football, we were just two guys indulging in a competitive endeavor. And Kaepernick wanted to win. He had practiced. He knew the ins and outs of the power ups, too. I was handed the controller cold. I didn’t know what the buttons did, and was horrible on the field. It was like the 49ers blowing out the Broncos 55-10 in the 1990 Super Bowl. It wasn’t pretty, and Kaepernick was thrilled to beat me. Like Carmy in The Bear, he needs to “Let it rip.” Something inside Colin always wants the victory. But he’s able to win without being nasty about it; he can’t go through life any other way. It’s an admirable trait.
For this upcoming Saber Interactive experience, Colin and I played on a graphics-rich field with a gushing Niagara Falls in the background. The players, including Buffalo Bills’ QB Josh Allen, are lovably blocky, as if inspired by both Jack Kirby’s old school Hulk and today’s Minecraft characters.
I was already hooked by the water feature; the Falls is near my real life hometown, but I’ve never see it in a game. It seems like the perfect backdrop for any video game experience, stunning as a background to an NFL field.
As we played, I saw there is a Wild Card system available to kick things up a notch. I couldn’t figure out exactly how and when to release one of the 150 cards, but Wild Card Football “lets fans change the course of the action in an instant with special power-ups and rule-breaking abilities across a variety of game modes.” I mean, a UFO can come out of nowhere to challenge your superstar receiver.
Colin had the 49ers and I had the most recent Buffalo Bills defense. He went up 14-0 right away. We were sitting there laughing like kids as we played this NFL Street-style experience. Late in the 4th, an interception led me up the field to score 7. But 14-7 really wasn’t that close. I was losing miserably for each of the few minute football quarters. Luck presented me with that one touchdown.
In the fall, our non-profit journalism website showcase a full, long interview with Colin – complete with video. When the game drops on October 10th, we’ll talk about the ins and outs of Wild Card Football, the need for better education, books, non-profits and Malcolm X. For now, here are Colin’s words about the different pieces of the puzzle that can be inspiration from a book or from heroic humans who’ve gone through struggle: “There will be different parts in any story. You can take different things away from it when we both see the exact same story, the exact same speech. We’ll go through similar experiences, but we’ll view them through difference lenses. In looking forward in a positive way, there may be different pieces (you’ll need) to be able to do that.”
So, we choose separate pieces of the puzzle when we’re going through new challenges. That knowledge can be found within in Ida B. Wells’ investigative journalism, Malcolm X’s speeches or Colin Kaepernick’s play in the Super Bowl. And that’s true in games. That’s true in education. And yes, that’s true in navigating the tests that life brings you along the way. You choose your way, not just alone, but with the help of those that came before you.
Award-winning journalist/author Harold Goldberg is the founder of the NY Videogame Critics Circle and the NY Game Awards.