By now, you’ve probably heard of Colin Kaepernick, the black football player who won’t stand for the national anthem. The protests are a point of contention to football fans. Just mentioning his name causes conversations to heat and political views to creep into the biggest fandom of middle America. In fact, in my own household, this topic quickly becomes an argument where sides are taken and words are exchanged. This is because, a little over a year ago, Kaepernick, then a backup quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, decided to take a knee during the anthem to protest police brutality and the world lost its damn mind.
Black nonviolent protest has been around since the 60s, when Martin Luther King Jr. rallied a country during the Civil Rights Movement. In sports, black athletes have been taking a stand for civil rights for just as long.
Muhhamad Ali’s refusal to join the United States Army to fight in the Vietnam War led to him being called a “draft dodger” and got him banned from boxing at the height of his career. His anti-war stance helped shed light on the growing anti-war movement of the 1960s.
After winning gold and bronze medals, Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City and raised black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem, causing outrage amongst fellow Americans at the time.
For Kaepernick, much of the negative backlash around the protest revolves around his supposed lack of respect for what the flag and the anthem represent–the values of the American people. Ironically, those are the same values that entitle Kaepernick the right to not only protest, but to question American society and raise a magnifying glass to the problems in our great country. In their criticism, pundits, politicians and sports fans alike have railed against Kaepernick, saying that, while the problems of police brutality and racism against the black community are bad, Kaepernick should have respect, he should appreciate living in the US, he should take his protest out of professional sports or go live somewhere else.
“I think it’s personally not a good thing. I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a new country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.”
These arguments sidestep the real issue though, which is that violence against the black community is on the rise and that those who commit it while wearing badges seem to be immune to punishment. Kaepernick himself told ESPN back in 2016,
“I’m not anti-American. I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.
“Those conversations are important to have because the better we understand each other, the better we know each other, the better we can deal and communicate with each other which ultimately makes everyone, puts everybody in a better position.”
At the end of last season, Kaepernick opted to become a Free Agent rather than get dropped by the 49ers, but has yet to get a job offer. As the 2017 football season gears up to begin, Colin Kaepernick has not been signed, and there are many theories as to why. Some say that he’s just not that good of a football player, although his stats tell us that he’s pretty decent, when given the opportunity to get on the field. Last season, Kaepernick threw more than 2,200 yards and 16 passing touchdowns with 4 interceptions in 12 games.
Others believe that Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL because of his anthem protests. During the 2016-2017 season, fellow 49ers rallied around Kaepernick, awarding him the Len Eshmont Award, given by teammates to the player “who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont” (49ers.com). On August 23, 2017, hundreds of protesters stood outside the NFL headquarters in New York City to show support for Kaepernick, and a social media campaign by fans to boycott the NFL this season is already underway. In a recent interview, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rogers told ESPN writer Mina Kimes, “I think [Kaepernick] should be on a roster right now. I think because of his protests, he’s not.”
Since August 28, 2016, the date that Kaepernick first took a knee, almost 100 professional football players have participated in a public anthem protest, a testament to the traction this silent protest has gotten. Just last week, a group of 10 Cleveland Brown players knelt during the anthem, days after Heather Heyer was killed protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA. It’s not just black players anymore, either. Seth DeValve, Browns second-year tight end, took a knee to show support for his teammates. Justin Britt put his hand on Michael Bennett’s shoulder during a Seattle Seahawks preseason game and Chris Long stood with Malcolm Jenkins while Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem.
So, if the NFL anthem protests aren’t stopping and instead gaining traction, why doesn’t Kaepernick have a job? Some say that Kaepernick needs to choose between his role as an activist and being a football player. Football Hall of Famer, Jim Brown recently spoke to The Post Game about the difficulties in balancing life as a professional athlete and an activist. “Colin has to make up his mind whether he’s truly an activist or he’s a football player. If you’re trying to be both — football is commercial. You have owners. You have fans. And you want to honor that, if you’re making that kind of money.”
It isn’t easy, but Kaepernick isn’t giving up. If his actions in the off season are anything to go by, Kaepernick is committed to bringing light to the issues of police brutality and race in America and will continue to do so whether he plays football or not. In the last year, Kaepernick pledged $1 million dollars in his fight against injustice, and Kaepernick’s project, Know Your Rights Camp, a free campaign for youth fully that he fully funds, has helped raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.
The name Colin Kaepernick has become part of America’s political discourse. Invoking that name causes those who disagree with his methods of protest to argue that Kaepernick is washed up and bad for team morale. Ask Kaepernick supporters, and they will tell you that the fact that players with lower stats are getting signed to teams relates directly back to Kaepernick’s protests. Blaine Gabbert, whom Kaepernick leads in every significant passing category, including a career passing rating of 88.9 to Gabbert’s 71.5, signed with the Arizona Cardinals in May and teams like the Ravens, who are in desperate need of a QB, have passed on Kaepernick due to unknown reasons. In fact, it looks as if, unless there are significant injuries on the NFL stage, Kap may be sitting out football for an indefinite amount of time. For Kaepernick, who trained throughout the summer for a season that begins in just a few days, the call of activism may permanently keep him from being a paid professional athlete, and it’s disheartening to see how many people are glad about that.
**As a reminder, comments are moderated. Our policy forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling. That being said, I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about Colin Kaepernick. Leave a comment below and let me know how you feel.