Colin “Kap” Kaepernick was arguably one of the best up-and-coming quarterbacks in the NFL in his prime. His career, however, was conflicted by his decision to sit during the national anthem. This peaceful protest of his was his way of shining a light on the oppression of colored people and its associated police brutality in the United States. Colin was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 NFL draft. He was used as a backup until halfway through the 2012 season. The sophomore quarterback was called upon to fill the void in the starting quarterback position, due to injuries. This is when Colin began to shine, as he led the 49ers to make their first Super Bowl appearance in almost two decades. The next year, Colin was named starting quarterback and he led the 49ers deep into another playoff run. They made it all the way to the NFC championship game, which is the game right before the Super Bowl. For the rest of his contract, Colin Kaepernick struggled to maintain his starting position, mostly due to injury; however, the last year of his contract is where he showed his determination to take a stand. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick decided to sit during the national anthem. He didn’t play or even wear his uniform in the first two preseason games, and although this didn’t stop him from sitting, it did let him go virtually unnoticed.
It wasn’t until the third preseason game, on August 26, 2016, when he wore his uniform, that Colin gained attention for sitting on the bench during the national anthem. In an interview, Colin alerted the public that “‘when there’s significant change and [he] feel[s] like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, [then he’ll] stand.’”1 This occurrence caught the eyes of Americans everywhere. Many people interpreted his protest as protesting the anthem itself, and therefore of disrespecting America, but some saw it as a chance to challenge the ideals that the anthem claims to represent, therefore making this the perfect stage for such a protest. Whichever the case, everyone has different opinions and most can’t see past the the fact that the protest is during the anthem. Police unions were on the verge of rejecting to provide security at games, Kaepernick received death threats, protesters were abused and threatened with lynching. The person who is supposed to represent America, our president, President Trump, encouraged the brutal tone for angry Americans by proposing that U.S. citizen Colin Kaepernick move to another country and stop calling the U.S. his home.2 This comment, in addition to the threats and harassment is exactly what Colin is fighting to put an end to. Since starting the protest, nothing has changed. There has still been numerous killings of unarmed victims at the hands of police. The United States of America is the greatest country in the world, but why is there so much hate? It wouldn’t be true to say that America hasn’t made significant changes in hopes of reaching equality. However, arguing that we are nearing that goal would be false as well. Colin has had the courage and the opportunity to use the publicity to become the voice for change, and although many people despise him for it, let’s just not forget his true ambition for starting this protest: equality.
The protest sparked controversy all over the United States. Colin gained numerous supporters as well as many critics. A former green-beret turned NFL player, and fan of Colin’s, wrote an open letter to him. In the eyes of many veterans and even most patriotic Americans, sitting during the national anthem is seen as insulting and even somewhat offensive. However, in the letter, Nate Boyer describes Colin as courageous and although he himself didn’t have to deal with prejudice, having been to Sudan and witnessing genocide helped him understand the activism of Colin. Boyer wanted to become a green-beret because their motto supports what he stood for: De opresso liber— to free the oppressed. Nate explains that he is willing to try to listen and understand Colin’s cause despite the anger he felt when Colin first decided to sit during the national anthem. He raises the argument that “Overcoming racism at home is a slow process, and we still have a long way to go, but most of us are trying. That’s what sets us apart from so many other places. In this country, no matter who you are, where you come from, what color you are, you can try.”3 Having experience in both the military and the NFL, Nate’s letter caught a huge amount of publicity. Although Boyer expressed his opinion on the protest, he continually emphasizes the fact that he doesn’t speak for all veterans, who all have opinions of their own. While in Culver City, CA, during an interview with NFL Network, he received a call from Colin’s publicist claiming that Colin wanted to meet him before the game the next day. After agreeing to meet, Colin sent an Uber for Nate, and after a three-our ride, Nate not only met Colin, but Colin’s teammate Eric Reid (who was the first person to join the protest).
While conversing with Colin, Nate explained that not only is the national anthem considered “‘[…]a sacred time for a lot of people,’” but also that “‘[…] sitting on the bench isolated from [the] team is not very inspiring.’”4 After deciding to kneel instead, Colin asked Nate to kneel with him.
Nate declined, but stood next to him, in approval, with his hand over his heart. By going from sitting to kneeling, Kap not only shows his willingness to listen to others, but also that it is not his intentions to offend anybody. Colin took responsibility and expressed his awareness on the topic. He knew that not everyone would approve of his protest, including the 49ers organization, which released a statement arguing that freedom of expression is a great American principle and that individuals could choose whether or not to stand during the national anthem. The NFL also stated that “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”5
At a party rally in Alabama in September 2017, President Donald Trump used profane language to advise that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. This quickly backfired as all 28 NFL teams then participated in the protest. Not only players participated, but numerous coaches and even team owners participated as well. Throughout the protest, Colin gained many followers, not only in the NFL, but in other sports as well. This came to be known as the “Kaepernick effect.” There were numerous high school and college teams of various sports following Colin’s movement. This phenomena even trickled down to peewee football teams.6 In a 2016 NBA preseason game, Denasia Lawrence knelt at midcourt while singing the national anthem before the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers exhibition. During the national anthem of the first game of the 2017 WNBA finals, the Los Angeles Sparks received a barrage of booing due to their walkout in a refusal to participate in the honoring of the national anthem. Their opponents, the Minnesota Lynx, followed in the footsteps of their fellow NFL Minnesotan counterpart (Vikings) and linked arms during the anthem. Several NASCAR team owners even chimed in by agreeing to willingly fire any participants of this protest. President Trump praised NASCAR for this; however, the NASCAR organization stepped in and while still respecting the national anthem, the organization argued for peaceful protests with this statement: “Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”7 Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign midfielder) and the US Soccer International team kneel during the anthem before the Seattle Reign-Chicago Red Stars game.
Rapinoe argues that Colin is being treated disgustingly and that the media, and most of America at this point, is making the protest out to be something that it isn’t.8 The true purpose of this movement is an attempt to make racism and police brutality a thing of the past by speaking out against it. As Nate Boyer argued earlier, it’s just the fact that the protest is happening during the national anthem that makes the public deem it as offensive and unacceptable. Due to this controversy, on May 23, 2018, the NFL released a new policy stating that players are allowed to stay in the locker room during the national anthem, but those who were out in the public eye during the anthem were required to stand and that any team that had players kneel would be fined. The players’ union filed a grievance in response to this policy, arguing that not only did the policy conflict with their rights, but that they weren’t informed about the making of this policy. The NFL reacted by quickly putting the policy on hold in order to talk it out with the players.9
It has been over a year that Colin has been unsigned, and it’s not because of lack of talent. Leading a team deep into the playoffs two years in a row in just his second and third years in the league should prove just how good he is. No team has even attempted to offer him a contract. In October 2017, during week six of the NFL season, the unsigned activist filed a grievance arguing that the league had blackballed him. He believes the entire league came to an agreement that nobody would sign him, and the argument is valid. Why can’t a star quarterback, who’s still relatively young compared to many other starting quarterbacks, get signed? Nonetheless, being unsigned hasn’t gotten in the way at all of the peaceful protests, as Colin has won awards for his efforts and cause. Some of these rewards include the Black History Award from Harvard, Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award, 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, and Amnesty International even bestowed it’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for “his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination.”10 Gentleman’s Quarterly requested putting him on the cover of their magazine for winning the magazine’s Citizen of the Year. Colin accepted the cover and agreed to work with the magazine and the “reason he wanted to participate is that he wants to reclaim the narrative of his protest, which has been hijacked by a president eager to make this moment about himself. But Colin also made it clear to [GQ] that he intended to remain silent.”11 Having his mind dead set on remaining silent, he and the editors of GQ decided to let pictures do the talking for him.
Christopher Petrella, a strong supporter and friend of Colin’s, even contributed to the article that GQ was putting together by saying, “In my view, the most pernicious element of white backlash against Colin’s protest has been the way in which the narrative has been co-opted and re-framed so that taking a knee is now somehow synonymous with disrespecting the flag, with a lack of patriotism.”12 Controversy arose again when Nike released its 30th anniversary picture starring Colin Kaepernick.
Many despised Nike for this, and even started burning their Nike products; however, Nike’s stock hit an all-time high due to the campaign.
Peaceful protests, of any form, are protected under the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. It is the “right of the people to peaceably assemble.”13 The President himself is giving Colin a hard time for exercising this right. There are two sides to every story, and President Trump is ignorantly ignoring Colin’s side by saying that he is unpatriotic. Isn’t it more unpatriotic to stand for a flag that is supposed to represent freedom when the country that raises the flag does nothing about the racial oppression within its own borders? Isn’t it unpatriotic to fight for other countries’ freedom when we ourselves can’t even enjoy it properly? As the “Land of the Free,” we should set the example of equality and freedom for others to follow. It’s not easy to swallow your pride and try to see things eye to eye with someone with different beliefs, but that’s what America needs right now.