When Colin Kaepernick decided he was not going to stand during the ceremonial playing of the Star-Bangled Banner, the U.S. national anthem, before his National Football League games with the San Francisco 49ers last season, he was acutely aware there would be backlash. Perhaps the consequence is never playing in the NFL again as the 29-year-old quarterback remains unsigned roughly six weeks from the start of training camps.
Kaepernick carried out his initial public symbolic protest against racial and social injustice in this country by solitarily sitting on the 49ers’ bench on the sideline before kickoff of a preseason game last summer. He amended his protest to kneeling on the sideline by the 49ers’ final preseason game on Sept. 1. His controversial actions at once offended many but inspired others, including fellow NFL players, some who also began to carry out silent suggestive protests during the playing of the national anthem.
However, it was Kaepernick who had become the NFL’s face and voice of anger, outrage and indignation toward the killings and shootings of unarmed Black men by law enforcement officers, and the ostensible inequitable criminal justice system that failed to prosecute and incarcerate the perpetrators of the homicides.
“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 said at a preseason postgame gathering with the media. “To me, this is bigger than football …There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick’s No. 7 49ers jersey fast became the top-selling jersey on the NFL’s official shop website as he instantly emerged as an international personality. Now, after making a statement this past winter that he would again begin to stand for the national anthem in the 2017 season, Kaepernick is seemingly toxic in the view of many NFL owners and remains unsigned roughly six weeks away from the start of training camps. In March, he opted out of the final year of his contract with the 49ers.
Owners aren’t engaging in collusion against Kaepernick. Individually, they are simply determining he is not a good fit for their respective organizations. Last week, Giants co-owner John Mara conveyed sentiments regarding Kaepernick that by and large explain why he is still a free-agent despite a resume that reads 12, 271 yards passing and 2,300 yards rushing in 69 games over six years in the NFL, highlighted by a passing and rushing touchdown in the 49ers’ 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
“All my years being in the league, I never received more emotional mail from people than I did about that issue,” Mara said to the website MMQB.com. “If any of your players ever do that, we are never coming to another Giants game. It wasn’t one or two letters. It was a lot. It’s an emotional, emotional issue for a lot of people, more so than any other issue I’ve run into.”
Mara’s insight reflects the ideological chasm that divides this country. The repudiation of Kaepernick by much of the Giants’ fan-base, if Mara is to be taken at his word, speaks to the inherent oppressive mindset of a large segment of America, ironically and hypocritically the same demographic that vehemently argues for the protection of First Amendment rights, which Kaepernick lawfully and peacefully exercised.
May 24, in front of the NFL headquarters at 51st Street and Park Avenue, a protest led by Kevin Livingston of the Queens-based nonprofit 100 Suits and attended by an estimated 60 people, was held in support of Kaepernick, who in April provided a donation to the organization. It was a noble gesture and extension of the feelings of a multitude of Kaepernick fans who hope he indeed finds himself on an NFL roster in the weeks or months ahead.
Only time will tell if Kaepernick is afforded another chance to play in the NFL. What is fairly certain is his skills aren’t the primary determinant.