A photographer for Niners Nation, an affiliate of SB Nation, snapped a shot of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting on the bench as the anthem was played before the 49ers played a home exhibition game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26, 2016.

It was the third exhibition and no one had taken note of Kaepernick’s location during this pregame ritual for the previous two exhibitions. The photo made it an issue. When asked, Kaepernick said it was a silent protest against police shootings and other treatment toward blacks in America that he considered grievous.

Later, Kaepernick started to kneel during the anthem, after a conversation with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret and NFL player. Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers in May 2017, after a discussion with team officials that presumably made him pessimistic about playing time.

Donald Trump, always on the lookout for button-pushing issues, leaped on Kaepernick and other anthem protestors as something worthy of concern, and the NFL owners started to squirm.

Other protestors have been signed – including safety Eric Reid after a long wait – but Kaepernick was the face of it all, and the NFL’s collusion to keep him out of the league continues to this day.

“It’s not collusion,’’ scream those angered by Kaepernick's silent anthem protest. “He isn’t with a team because he isn’t that good.’’

Perhaps. Maybe Kaepernick’s only better than a handful of current starters and half of the current primary backups. But the absurdity of the NFL’s boycott was played out again this week as the Washington Redskins claimed linebacker Reuben Foster on waivers.

The 49ers finally got rid of the troubled Foster after the latest allegation of domestic abuse surfaced over the weekend. He was arrested on Saturday night in Tampa, Fla. after another altercation with Elissa Ennis, a woman with whom he has had a relationship described as “on and off’’ for three years.

There’s other stuff in this guy’s background. He was a top five talent out of Alabama and went No. 31 to San Francisco in the 2017 draft because of those concerns. Facing a real embarrassment, rather than the made-up embarrassment of Kaepernick’s protest, the NFL stepped in on Wednesday and told Washington that Foster would not be cleared to play until it completed an investigation of his latest mess.

It’s amazing, though, that there was an NFL team willing to take a shot on a loose cannon like Foster, and there hasn’t been one that brought in Kaepernick – especially Washington.

Starter Alex Smith suffered a broken leg in mid-November. Washington named Colt McCoy as its starter and signed Mark Sanchez as the backup. The team selected Sanchez from a group of candidates that included E.J. Manuel, Kellen Clemens, Josh Johnson and T.J. Yates.

I guess you’re right, defenders of the NFL. Kaepernick just isn’t good enough to get a shot over that distinguished group of quarterbacks.

The common thread of commentary is that the Redskins were tone-deaf on Foster. And when it comes to the Kaepernick boycott, the NFL has been vile.

It always has been so simple for folks choosing to become upset over a silent protest during a pregame anthem: Look at Old Glory, not the sidelines.

***

The turkey award came back in the form of The Authentic Turkeys [TAT] in the Star Tribune on Thanksgiving morning. This satirical effort has been taken far too seriously in recent times, and that was the case again when Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck was named as Top TAT.

The document announcing this actually had been completed on Sunday, Nov. 18, and a couple of days later I was on a flight, with a novel in hand: Lee Child’s “Past Tense,’’ the latest Jack Reacher adventure.

There was a Canadian couple introduced as vital characters early on, and Child's name for the male was “Shorty Fleck.’'  A reader who knew what was coming back home in a couple of days had the right to smile over this.

Shorty came off as a buffoon for much of the book. And P.J.’s 4-13 record in the Big Ten with one conference game remaining in 2018 certainly qualified him for turkey-esque mention.

Then, on Saturday, P.J. Fleck’s football team battered Wisconsin and brought home the trophy for this ancient series for the first time since 2003. And then on Tuesday night, I was finishing the last 100 pages of this Reacher, and suddenly Shorty Fleck turned into a big thinker and heroic figure – although not as heroic as his girlfriend, Patty Sundstrom.

I found the mutual turnarounds of P.J. (in truth) and Shorty (in fiction) so compelling that it was a requirement to go to Twitter with this salute:

“Phil Fleck’s team brought home the large, sharp object from Madison and, just now, Shorty Fleck went from inept to heroic in Chapter 37 of ‘Past Tense,’ the new Reacher. That’s a double I’ll-be-danged.’’

This was offered as a tribute to both of the Flecks, real and imagined. Unfortunately, with post-TAT emotions running high, it was taken by a number of respondents to be a shot at the Gophers football coach for his relative lack of height.

No. It was Lee Child, who has created characters in his Reacher novels to surpass 100 million copies in sales, that came up with "Shorty Fleck.''

I’m innocent – bemused, but innocent.

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