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49ers’ Javon Kinlaw Was Right To Defend Himself

May 26, 2022 at 2:22 PM--

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I'll never forget seeing Javon Kinlaw's father, George, fall to the floor when he heard his son's name called in the 2020 NFL Draft. I knew right then and there the 49ers were getting, at the very least, an emotionally invested player in Kinlaw. So I wasn't surprised to see the unfiltered emotions Kinlaw exhibited in his "interview" with Grant Cohn of Sports Illustrated.

Let's be clear, Javon Kinlaw has every right to defend his reputation and confront anyone who is constructing a counter-productive narrative of him. That not only goes for Kinlaw, that goes for any professional athlete in my opinion. Kinlaw's 'self-defense' plays right into something that I once heard, "a lie that goes uncorrected will soon be accepted as the truth." If Kinlaw allows people to control the conversation about him, it is very likely to have financial consequences for him and his family. So for Cohn and any other sports journalist who dares push out negativity on players, let's just say if you mess with the bull, you are liable to get the horns. With that being said, I want to take a moment to look beyond the incident and into what evoked the passionate defense from Kinlaw.

"I got kids bro" - I didn't take the liberty to count how many times Kinlaw reiterated this point to Cohn, however, I could tell from the way in which he said this, that Kinlaw was doing more than simply stating the fact that he is a father. Kinlaw's passionate rebuttal may have been rooted in his own childhood obstacles and a parent's natural instincts to protect their children. Kinlaw is likely going out of the way to guard himself to shield his kids from the negativity that they are liable to hear about their father. Something that, unfortunately, wasn't done for him during his childhood. A childhood that was marked by homelessness, behavior and anger management issues, and academic struggles due to the instability of his home life. Things were so bad that Kinlaw would spend eight hours a day on the DC Metro trains because it was warmer than the house he lived in that had no electricity. Throughout his upbringing, Kinlaw bounced back and forth between the Washington DC area (with his mom) and South Carolina (with his dad) until he entered high school. Typically the term "bounced around" is used figuratively. However, in Kinlaw's case it applies literally, as both his mother and father were largely unable to find permanent housing and Kinlaw's social and emotional behavior suffered because of it.

When Kinlaw's father's struggles with alcoholism are added to this mix, one should be able to understand Kinlaw's frustration with Cohn. Kinlaw is a survivor. Simply put, he has overcome too much to be considered anything else. I believe this is what he meant with the statement "I'm a whole grown man out here." Again, Kinlaw was right, facing situations that he has, would force anyone to grow up fast. By all accounts, Kinlaw has done everything right both on and off the field from the moment he has been drafted by the 49ers.

In my opinion, amid the profanity-laced exchange between Cohn and Kinlaw, Kinlaw offered some insight into how he wants to be viewed. Kinlaw stated that if he has a bad season this year, "you can rail me all you want." I found that to be very mature and honest. Kinlaw is telling the world, "if I am healthy and don't play well then I deserve all the criticism that comes with not getting the job done." Hearing an athlete willing to take that level of accountability is refreshing, especially when today's athletes are largely viewed as not having the same mental makeup as their predecessors. For all intents and purposes, Kinlaw checks that old-school box in terms of taking responsibility for what he puts on film. That is why I understand his frustrations with being belittled by Cohn.

In the past, Cohn has made the outrageous claims that Kinlaw has "an 80-year-old knee" and other retorts that have created a perception around Kinlaw that he may be damaged goods. Cohn has made statements that the 49ers should have drafted Tristan Wirfs and even insinuated things that could make his audience begin to conjure up the idea that Kinlaw is a bust. Personally, I strongly disagree with anyone who feels that way about Kinlaw. Thus far in his career, Kinlaw has dealt with the adversity of injuries but has shown the potential to be dominant when he plays. But I digress, the more significant point is that players must do whatever is in their power to control their narratives.

To their credit, the athletes of this generation have done a great job at creating the platforms such as The Uninterrupted and The Players Tribune to put out content from their perspective. Even with these types of platforms, there is a pecking order and we typically get stories from more notable athletes. For players like Kinlaw, the reporting done primarily to a team's fan base, whether justly or unjustly, goes a long way in developing the perception fans typically hold of a player. And thus the seed of Kinlaws frustration, Cohn has created an unfair assessment of Kinlaw. So whether you agreed with his methodology or not, Kinlaw's actions were his way of defending his reputation.

A reputation that Kinlaw has persevered through a mountain of a past to defend. Javon Kinlaw is in a contract year and his play this season will go a very long way in determining his NFL future. That is on a player level, on a personal level Kinlaw knows that he could single-handedly create generational wealth for his children and change the trajectory of his family forever. Kinlaw is undoubtedly feeling the pressure of that and made it clear that he doesn't plan to allow Cohn or anyone else to sully that opportunity. Kinlaw wants his play to speak for him and I can't blame him. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on Kinlaw dominating this season because up to this point his life can be summed up by this quote from Booker T. Washington: "Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life, but by the obstacles which he has overcome."

Knowing what Kinlaw has overcome, playing football will be the easy part.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Matt Wadsworth
    This article is a dodge. It has nothing to do with rights or being right. It is how he went about doing it. Cohn is a TMZ reporter, it is ironic that is where his nonsense landed because that is exactly what he is about 90% of the time. Cohn is an accuser. It is easy to accuse; it takes nothing and makes the accuser feel virtuous. Cohn's attacks on Armstead were stupid too. Lately, he is said that we should be trading Kittle, which is insane. What Kinlaw did was reveal himself as someone who never grew up. His language was juvenile, petulant, debased and raunchy. He should be ashamed of himself. Compare Kinlaw's response with Armstead's. How Armstead went about it was totally fine and also professional. Two things can be true at once. Cohn's take on Kinlaw is absurd. Kinlaw's reaction was absurd. Let's move on.
    Jun 1, 2022 at 1:31 PM
  • Matt Stanley
    David Bonilla, another bad take! So only positive comments are allowed? No negative comments? So, I can only share my opinion about a player if its acceptable to the player, in this case Kinlaw? Grant Cohn isnt Kinlaws mommy, or his employer. Lets praise Kinlaw after he succeeds, not while hes still in bust territory!
    May 31, 2022 at 11:23 PM
  • Grant Bong
    Hi Grant this really the kind of attention what you like?... All these people you don't know writing a bunch of crap about you.. You like this? Oh never mind, you are used to it. Another bong hit please ..yea!!
    May 27, 2022 at 4:40 PM
  • Grant Con
    How much Marijuana does this guy smoke everyday? Every time i see his picture he looks so stoned out. One of these days Ants luck is going to run out and he will be looking for a new line of work. Way to soon for him to be thinking about retirement. Little twerp punk.
    May 27, 2022 at 4:15 PM
  • Scott
    Grant is a childish punk and his rants on SI show what an ass he is. He handled this just like I knew he would, like a little victim. He never has anything good to say about players, staff, or the organization. Go away Grant and take your Pop with you. JMO
    May 27, 2022 at 4:03 PM
  • Roy
    The point is GC is a complete a-hole. I stopped following him on Twitter because he comes off as a deranged jerk. And, obviously, players over-reacting is what he wants. Stop talking to, following or commenting on GC. He is simply an opportunistic idiot.
    May 27, 2022 at 3:23 PM
  • John add
    I 100% support Kinlaw. I have read ever 49ers article that I could get my hands on ever since I was a kid. I read every Glenn Dickey and Lowell Cohn (Grant Cohn’s father) in the Chronicle green sheet even though I could stand their writing style or their attempt to make the articles about themselves instead of the team I have refused to look at anything from Grant every since he spent weeks mocking Donte Pettis for wearing a jeans jacket, He is Mocking and abusive in style. He should be banned from covering the 49ers. I am seriously thinking about not reading any sports illustrated given that they continue to employ him I am completely supportive of Kinlaw. I hope he absolutely dominates this year. If he does, undoubtedly Cohn will claim credit because he will say Kinlaw only did it because Cohn motivated him to do so which was what he intended all along. Boycott Cohn
    May 27, 2022 at 9:54 AM
  • Rustybutt
    Javon Kinlaw has done everything he could to play as well as possible. His injuries are not his fault. But the problem is that he was essentially traded straight up for DeForest Buckner, who has been a regular iron man in terms of availability, and who has significantly outperformed Kinlaw over the past 2 years. It was not a good trade, but that's not Kinlaw's fault. I'm certain that ever Niners fan, as well as Grant Cohn, wishes Kinlaw well and hopes that he achieves his full potential on his reconstructed knee this year.
    May 27, 2022 at 8:19 AM
  • RLB
    He was correct in his defense, but I wish he was capable of using adult language rather than sounding like an enraged teen.
    May 27, 2022 at 7:17 AM
  • don
    Some context is needed for this whole scenario. The criticism Grant leveled at Kinlaw was unfair. Kinlaw has been chronically injured and his performance compromised since his career began. Now healthy we should know about Kinlaw's abiities this season.. Did Kinlaw handle the initial confrontation well? No.. But neither did Cohn who immediately went public with a play by play internet account of the event ending with a mocking tirade leveled at Kinlaw.. Grant is a hard working, insightful journalist who does not get enough credit for his knowledge of the game. But his critical hat needs to be tempered with more thought and objectivity. The fact that he has zero respect from the majority of players and coaches should be a wake up call for him. As long as criticism is fair and done respectfully I don't think the players have an argument and if they do they need to put on a pair of big boy pants. Regarding Grant, covering the 49ers is a privelege. As long as criticism is done thoughtfully, respectfully, fairly, he should have that right. Anything below the belt should not be tolerated.
    May 27, 2022 at 4:35 AM
  • kicorse
    Ridiculous to suggest it was okay for Kinlaw to behave like that. Still, Cohn's press pass should have been revoked a long time ago.
    May 27, 2022 at 2:17 AM
  • Shlomo
    All the San Francisco liberals are rushing to stick up for poor multimillionaire Javon ONLY because he’s black and Cohn is huwite. Jewish? Whatever. White. If the races were switched, these same losers would be outraged about an enormous professional athlete huwite supremacist beating up on some nerdy little black Jew writer
    May 27, 2022 at 1:18 AM
  • ToolTime
    Some pretty questionable comments in here.... very odd if you ask me, especially the groupings. All I wanted to say is that most of the people who are criticizing this guy wouldn't have made it as far as Javan if they were dealt his cards. Pretty sad the lack of empathy people have honestly.. But look around at our world. Its one of cutting people down, hate, and senseless violence. A general lack of humanity. Makes me sad. Also Grant Cohn is miserable little fukwit.
    May 27, 2022 at 12:14 AM
  • IrishCrnjo
    Good Lord, what a terrible take. Javon was beyond out of line. What sport writer doesn't criticize a player now and then? To say that gives players the right to "defend themselves" with such vulgarities. I suppose Will Smith was also correct to "defend his wife". What is wrong with people these days.
    May 26, 2022 at 8:31 PM
  • Tiberius
    I have no idea what Javon was complaining about, I have no idea how he was "defending himself." My dog is better at communicating and he sniffs his own asshole and rolls around in the grass. Can the 49ers at least hire players that have some sort of ability to act like an adult? As far as Grant goes, who cares? He criticized a player, as the negative idiot is known to do. The player went full ghetto. What did Grant do wrong?
    May 26, 2022 at 7:35 PM
  • Bernie Bear
    First and foremost, Kinlaw is lucky Grant didn't file assault charges against him because he damn well could have. That being said, Grant was doing his job! Kinlaw should take a few pointers from Garappollo and others on the team who have received such "criticism." In my opinion, his "interview" with Grant just made him look like a bully and a thug. Kinlaw could have diplomatically gotten his point across without using foul language, threats, and a mouth full of food.
    May 26, 2022 at 7:28 PM
  • Alex
    Maybe we should cut Cohn some slack. Yeah, he's giving players and coaches who underperform a hard time, and yeah, it ain't always pretty. On the other hand, he's giving praise where praise is due and he admits his own failures and stands up to them. Then, seriously, Kinlaw didn't especially overperform either, to put it mildly. And for a hardly literate person (worse is only Samuel) to earn millions upon millions, they should kiss the asses of journalists 24/7, without which those sums would never be possible.
    May 26, 2022 at 6:52 PM
  • NelKiperSkoolYa
    Actions speak louder than words. Kinlaw can shut his critics up with his play on the field, but hasn’t produced anything yet. I guess the truth hurts. Cohn never said anything personal about him. The guy is just doing his job and reporting what he sees. Kinlaw has every right to defend himself but was way out of line with the way he did it. He borderline threatened Cohn, tried to intimidate and belittle him with his size and status. Kids are way too soft now a days. Kinlaw deserves some type of punishment IMO..
    May 26, 2022 at 6:43 PM
  • Rolo
    This individual in question, who calls himself a reporter, is pretty much everything wrong with modern journalism (post social media). Don't have a great angle for your story? Create controversy from an unsourced rumor! Don't have league contacts and/or access to get your readers interesting "inside" info? No problem; just make up an exciting "theory" and peddle it as probable fact (readers love that)! Not a particularly talented speaker or writer, and can't work with a respected outlet? YouTube or Tweet your “news”! I’m ashamed it took me about 20 years to definitively discern; the more (quantity) we demand as media consumers, the less (quality) we're likely to get from reporters going forward.
    May 26, 2022 at 5:20 PM
  • Darrell
    Cohn is a consistent troll. For years. Nepotism at its finest.
    May 26, 2022 at 4:54 PM
  • marc
    Weak article. Kinlaw crossed the line knocking off Grant's hat. You have to be a fool to think Grant Cohn can affect whether Kinlaw is resigned or not. Hell, the 49er brass hates him. Today's players are just more sensitive due to social media determining their self worth. Trey Lance is a perfect example of how the media, Twitter or the fans should affect you. Not at all! Next time a player might "Will Smith" a reporter. Then what? Grant has the right to report however he wants. It's a free country.
    May 26, 2022 at 4:35 PM
  • V
    Great perspective. I agree whole heartedly. Kinlaw lives in a hot take world and happens to be a target of the most infamous Niners hot take artists. He deserves the opportunity to prove himself and not be deemed a failure for a single season ending injury after a promising first year.
    May 26, 2022 at 2:56 PM


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