Colin Kaepernick’s acts of protest throughout the 2016 season were polarizing, but his teammates ultimately sided with his decisions by giving him the team’s most prestigious award: the Len Eshmont Award for the player who “best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont.”
Eshmont was a running back of the 49ers from 1946-1949 who died of infectious hepatitis in 1957 at 39 years old.
Kaepernick re-entered the national spotlight this season by kneeling during pregame national anthems to protest racial inequality in America, sparking a widespread debate.
Teammates voting Kaepernick as the winner does not necessarily mean the locker room wasn’t divided over the issue, but it does show he had at the very least a good amount of support.
Safety Antoine Bethea voiced his admiration of Kaepernick’s protests Thursday to CSN Bay Area and gave a great explanation of how even 49ers players who disagreed with the quarterback had a better perspective of the issue than outsiders due to sharing a locker room:
“I think what Kap did will be talked about for years to come – an NFL player using his platform for what he wanted to use it for.”
“When it first came out, obviously, there were probably some guys straddling the fence or on opposite sides. But at the end of the day, I think we did a good job as a team nipping it in the bud at the beginning. We came together as a team. Kap spoke to the team. He explained why he was doing that. He also explained if anybody didn’t agree or agreed or wanted to come talk to him, feel free to do that. A couple of guys did that. . . As far as the outsiders, of course, they have a lot to say about it. But I think we handled it well as a team.
A lot of times people don’t sit back and try to understand why he did it. Traveling and being on the team, you hear people when is taking a knee during the national anthem. You hear a lot of fans saying some different things. But if they really cared and really sat down and dove into the situation – I’m not going to say everybody would see it – but it’s a really a serious cause. He’s not saying he doesn’t love America. He’s not saying that he doesn’t support the troops. He’s saying, in that song, we’re saying one thing but the actions that are happening in this world are completely different.”
While many people around the NFL and the country support Kapernick’s actions, he continues to receive plenty of backlash. Just last week, America Legion baseball in Minnesota put in place a no-tolerance policy requiring players to show “proper respect” during the national anthem.
Kaepernick’s polarizing behavior extended beyond the national anthem. His decision to wear a Fidel Castro shirt to a press conference also drew plenty of criticism.
Whether you agree or disagree with Kaepernick’s view, his decision to kneel during the anthem was certainly inspirational. Teammates Eric Reid and Eli Harold joined Kaepernick’s pregame protests and players across the NFL — such as Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans — and college took part as well.
“It’s very impactful and I think they are people who have very strong character,” Kaepernick said earlier this month of Reid and Harold. “And to have the ability to really recognize what’s going on, how it not only affects them, but it affects their families and affects other people that look like them is something that’s very powerful and I’m very happy to have teammates like that, that have that type of character, that have those type of ethics and humanity.”