Colin Kaepernick hasn’t made any news on the football field this NFL preseason in his role as San Francisco’s back-up quarterback. On Friday, before the kickoff of the Niners preseason dress rehearsal with the Packers, he managed to spark a heated national political controversy without leaving his seat on the bench.
During the singing of the national anthem, Kaepernick remained conspicuously stuck to the pine as a symbolic protest of oppression and disparate treatment of minorities in America.
"To me, this is bigger than football."
Colin Kaepernick protests national anthem pic.twitter.com/55W2FWPMvk
— Copper Pepper (@CopperPepp) August 27, 2016
Following the game, Kaepernick explained the motivation for his protest to the NFL Network’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.”
San Francisco Head Coach Chip Kelly supported Kaepernick’s right to protest, saying “We recognize his right to do that. It’s not my right to tell him not to do something. That’s his right as a citizen.”
Social media predictably went to their respective ideological corners and exploded with a Category 5 hurricane of political hot takes regarding Kap’s right to freedom of expression, versus his obligation as an athlete to respect the anthem, and what it represents. As is the case with most national conversations about race, the discourse was not elevated from this exercise.
One 49’ers fans opted for the cliched jersey burn to voice his displeasure. Because what shows you’re angry more effectively than destroying your own property?
— The Fanatics View (@thefanaticsview) August 28, 2016
We’ve seen this movie before. During the 1995-96 NBA season, Denver Nuggets Guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf created a similar controversy when he refused stand for the national anthem as an act of political protest. Abdul-Rauf was suspended for one game by the NBA for his actions, and then forced by the league to stand for future national anthems. Abdul-Rauf was out of the league 2 years later, many say he was blackballed as a distraction.
It remains to be seen if the NFL will discipline Kaepernick for his anthem protest, but teams otherwise interested in giving him a chance to resurrect his career, may pass just to avoid the controversy and distraction. That’s their right, too.