Colin Kaepernick is part of Time Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People of 2017, which makes sense. Kaepernick, despite being a backup and currently unemployed quarterback, became a household name during the past year for kneeling during the National Anthem to bring awareness to racism in policing and elsewhere.
But what is more surprising is who wrote Kaepernick’s entry: His former coach, Jim Harbaugh.
Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, and the coach wrote glowingly about the player’s bravery in taking a stand.
“Colin Kaepernick was alone in his early protests last year when he boldly and courageously confronted perceived inequalities in our social-justice system by refusing to stand for the national anthem. At times in our nation’s history, we have been all too quick to judge and oppose our fellow Americans for exercising their First Amendment right to address things they believe unjust.
“Rather than besmirch their character, we must celebrate their act. For we cannot pioneer and invent if we are fearful of deviating from the norm, damaging our public perception or—most important—harming our own personal interests.”
Harbaugh’s views on Kaepernick evolved and should be commended. He started out by saying he didn’t “respect the motivation or the action” of kneeling during the National Anthem. But then, Harbaugh changed his mind.
“I was like anybody: I didn’t really like this,” Harbaugh says. “I wish he had chosen a different way to do this, a different action.”
When a reporter asked Harbaugh about Kaepernick’s protest, Harbaugh said, “I don’t respect the motivation or the action.” He quickly regretted his choice of words, and he clarified that he respected the motivation, not the action. But he still didn’t approve. Harbaugh is a stand-for-the-anthem kind of man.
But then Harbaugh did what too many have not done: he thought hard about it. He had no choice. Some of his Michigan players supported Kaepernick and raised their fists during the anthem.
“It wasn’t a distraction because we were listening to what they were saying,” Harbaugh says. “And they had a valid point. And they continue to have a valid point.”
For a moment, try doing what Harbaugh did last fall: Listen.
“The issue is, the more money you have, the more access you have to justice,” Harbaugh says. “The less money you have, the less access you have to justice.”
It’s natural for people to knee-jerk to opinions that are confirmed by their own experiences. And Harbaugh probably wasn’t properly prepared to answer questions about Kaepernick when he was first confronted with them.
But a true measure of character and empathy is learning about how other people’s experiences might be different from yours. Harbaugh’s transformation in that respect should be lauded.