News first broke late last night that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before Friday’s preseason matchup with the Packers, and people immediately wondered why.
From NFL.com, an explanation of why Kaepernick decided to sit out:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “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.”
Also of note from that NFL.com piece, this is the second game this preseason that Kaepernick has sat out the anthem. Friday night just happened to be the first time most people took notice.
As we covered in our initial post on the story, Kaepernick’s Twitter timeline is filled with retweets of news stories focusing the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, white supremacy, and other instances of civil unrest throughout America. Kaepernick told Wyche he has been thinking about these issues for a while now, and finally feels prepared to speak out on his own.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
Kaepernick said that he has thought about going public with his feelings for a while but that “I felt that I needed to understand the situation better.”
He said that he has discussed his feelings with his family and, after months of witnessing some of the civil unrest in the U.S., decided to be more active and involved in rights for black people. Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents and siblings.
The on-field ramifications for Kaepernick’s action are not yet clear. While the 49ers are likely not happy about the oncoming firestorm their quarterback has created, the team did stand by his right to freedom of expression in its official statement.
“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
However, Mike Freeman, an NFL columnist at Bleacher Report, has already shed a light on the predictable rift between NFL players and management.
Texts coming in from coaches, players, front office execs from around league on Kap. So far every player backs him. No coach/exec does.
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) August 27, 2016
49ers brass may indicate publicly they recognize Kaepernick’s right to free speech, but that does not mean they have his back. The intersection of sports and hot-button social issues always makes for an uneasy dynamic between the various parties and stances involved. Even the NBA, a league with a nearly impeccable reputation for handling social justice issues correctly, faced scrutiny earlier this year when WNBA players were fined for conducting a protest of their own.
The NFL would be wise to stay of out adjudicating this matter. But, in any event, Kaepernick’s biggest problems will likely come in the realm of public perception. Many do not take kindly to athletes speaking out on social issues in general, never mind a perceived attack on American exceptionalism. He will take a lot of heat for this, but it sounds like Kaepernick is ready to take it head on.