Colin Kaepernick, already awash in the sea of controversy surrounding his continuing free agency, is apparently dealing with a new obstacle in his job search.
His vegan diet.
Kaepernick switched his eating habits in 2016 citing ethical concerns and health benefits. He came into last season significantly smaller than before — perhaps due to his diet or perhaps because three surgeries limited his ability to lift weights.
NFL teams shelling out millions of dollars for a player are well within their rights to weigh all potential risks. A vegan in the NFL is the exception, not the rule. Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez became one late in his career before incorporating some meat back into his diet. Running backs Arian Foster and Ricky Williams also enjoyed success after going vegan.
Even in 2017, it’s weird.
That some NFL front offices are skeptical Kaepernick’s dietary restrictions will allow him to be the quarterback they need him to be is not surprising. It’s also quite rich when one considers the case of Tom Brady.
You remember Brady, the five-time Super Bowl champion who indulges with avocado ice cream and swore off sugar several presidents ago.
For most of the year, Brady is a vegan. In the cold winter months, he adds some lean meat to his diet. A typical day’s menu this time of year might include a breakfast smoothie—made with almond milk, a scoop of protein, seeds, nuts and a banana—a midmorning homemade protein bar, sliced up chicken breast on a salad with whole grains and legumes for lunch, a second smoothie as a snack and a dinner of quinoa with greens.
You remember Brady, who is healthy and successful enough to sell a $200 nutrition manual without a hint of irony.
Now, obviously, Kaepernick is no Tom Brady. Different levels of production afford different levels of acceptance for off-field quirks. I’m quite confident no team would blink at Kaepernick eating Twizzlers and Gummi Bears for every meal if the was out there throwing for 4,500 yards per season and winning playoff games.
If Kaepernick’s veganism raises any red flag, it’s that it could be a part of a rather dramatic transformation in his world view over the past few years. In his own words, part of the reason for changing his eating habits was a principled stand. Even if a team is supportive of Kaepernick’s activism, considering what form it takes (a la a hunger strike) in the future, is simply part of doing due diligence. Perhaps that’s unfair, but it’s the reality.
But writing him off because he’s not getting his protein from the most traditional sources is foolish. Especially when one considers that traditional meats like chicken and beef may not be the most effective ways for athletes to ingest protein.
Here’s why he should start: “Nutritionally, insects are quite excellent,” says Arnold van Huis, Ph.D., an entomology researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “In a number of instances, they’re even better than normal meat.” Ounce for ounce, crickets provide more than twice the protein of beef. Plus, that protein is the best kind, containing all nine essential amino acids. Crickets also pack nearly five times as much magnesium as beef. A Harvard study review from last year suggests that increasing your magnesium intake may cut your risk of heart disease by as much as 22 percent; plus, according to researchers in Japan, you could lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by about a third. Then there’s iron: Crickets have more than three times as much of this muscle-aiding mineral as beef does.
There has been some cold water dumped on that insects-as-super-muscle-builder theory in recent studies. But I don’t recall traditional meat-eaters being profiled a la Kaepernick, even as the science remains undecided.
This is an extreme example of the complexities of nutrition but, hopefully, it shows how ridiculous the skepticism of Kaepernick and his new diet comes off. It’s almost as if it’s not really about what Kaepernick eats at all.