No NFL teams want Colin Kaepernick, but the Smithsonian wants his jersey and shoes. Kaepernick stirred the NFL waters last season (and got President Donald Trump’s attention) when he was with the 49ers by sitting and taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, and police brutality in particular.
Harry Edwards, an influential sociologist, civil rights activist and long-time 49ers advisor, broached the topic with the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. Here’s how the conversation went, from USA Today:
“I said, ‘Don’t wait 50 years to try to get some memorabilia and so forth on Kaepernick,’ ” Edwards told USA TODAY Sports. “ ‘Let me give you a game jersey, some shoes, a picture … And it should be put right there alongside Muhammad Ali. He’s this generation’s Ali.’ ”
The Smithsonian listened to Edwards and expects Kaepernick’s memorabilia to go on display within the next couple of years:
The Kaepernick items are not currently on display, but the museum’s curator of sports, Damion Thomas, told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday that he expects new material in their collection will be rotated into exhibits in one to two years.
It’s unclear if Kaepernick’s memorabilia will actually be put alongside Ali’s, as Edwards suggested. While Kaepernick hasn’t had nearly the same amount of athletic success as the former heavyweight champion, there’s a distinct similarity between the two as both sports figures used their platforms to try and begin national conversations about sensitive political and social topics.
In August, Kaepernick explained his decision to protest during the national anthem to NFL.com’s Steve Wyche:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
On Friday’s “Undisputed,” FS1 analyst Shannon Sharpe agreed with the comparison between Kaepernick and Ali, also likening the free agent quarterback to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.:
“I’ve said this, and I do agree because I believe in 15, 20, 50 years from now, history will look fondly upon Colin Kaepernick and the stance that he took for the betterment of minorities. See, people have a hard time looking at Colin Kaepernick as a Dr. King, as a Muhammed Ali, or as a Ms. Rosa Parks because they’re looking at these iconic figures 50 years after the fact.
“I’m sure they said the very same thing about Dr. King: ‘He’s a troublemaker. He’s a rabble-rouser.’ … They did everything they could to undermine him. ‘If you do not like the message, let’s try and undermine and discredit the messenger.’ Some of the very things that Colin Kaepernick is going through.
“I’m torn about this one … I’ve told you before, Muhammad Ali was my favorite athlete growing up. I’ve also said several times that Colin Kaepernick has had profound national impact. He wound up on the cover of Time Magazine, he opened a whole lot of eyes and ears and hearts and heads. He opened up souls of some white people to say, ‘Oh yeah, this is a real problem.
Although Kaepernick is still a free agent, he has continued his fight for social justice during the offseason. His “Know Your Rights” camp provided workshops in Chicago earlier this month, educating youth on issues like financial literacy, nutrition, college preparation, and how to deal with law enforcement. He also gave free suits to at-risk and formerly incarcerated people outside a New York City parole office.
While Kaepernick was surrounded by controversy last season and lost his starting job to Blaine Gabbert for a few games, he actually put up some respectable numbers for San Francisco, throwing for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in 11 starts.