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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been a lightning rod for attention in his career, and his latest statements surely could make him an even more polarizing figure.
Kaepernick explained his unwillingness to stand for the playing of the national anthem, which of course happens before the kickoff of every NFL game. It happened in last night’s preseason game at Levi’s Stadium against the Green Bay Packers, one in which he struggled in his first action since last season.
“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 Network’s Steve Wyche after the game against Green Bay. “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.”
Kaepernick previously made comments in June lashing out against the death of a Baton Rouge, La., man, Alton Sterling, whom the quarterback suggested was murdered because of the color of his skin. Although Friday night was not believed to be the first time he has refused to stand during the anthem, it appears to be a fairly recent development. Above is a photo from late in the 2014 season where Kaepernick is standing during the anthem, per Getty Images.
The 49ers issued a statement on the matter after Kaepernick made his statement:
“The National Anthem is and always will be a special part of the pregame 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.”
The NFL added its own statement on standing during the anthem:
.@NFL comment on Kaepernick's anthem stance: "Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem."
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 27, 2016
Kaepernick is right to have his own opinion on the matter. He’s right to view his country any way he chooses. But he also must be willing to face the likely backlash. If USA Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas can get ripped for unintentionally forgetting to put her hand over her heart during the anthem, then Kaepernick clearly refusing to stand up during it will be treated far more harshly one would imagine.
It appears Kaepernick is aware of what he will face.
“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.”
A quick scan of Kaepernick’s Twitter timeline shows a lot of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and statements on racial issues in the country. Other athletes have used their voices and their platform to spread their views and try to raise awareness on sensitive social matters. Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets refused to stand for the national anthem 20 years ago, saying it conflicted with his Islamic beliefs, which caused a wave of controversy for him and for the league.
It’s possible that this protest hurts Kaepernick more than it helps him personally and career-wise. He already has alienated some people inside the 49ers organization, and though new head coach Chip Kelly said he has no designs on cutting his quarterback, those feelings could change — fairly or not — as this story mushrooms. This also is a country that has helped him earn almost $30 million, with at least $12 million more guaranteed to come this season. The fact that the former Super Bowl quarterback’s career has gotten off track, addled by injuries and ineffectiveness, can’t help his cause to regain his perch as a player.
But based on Kaepernick’s words, it sounds like he’s willing to make that sacrifice. It’s a powerful, controversial statement to make for an athlete clearly in a flashpoint of his career.
NFL teams often run from controversies such as these, although the cruel irony also is that many teams also have gone out of their way to defend players accused or convicted of domestic violence. So it’s very likely there’s a double standard inside the league, where players can be unofficially blackballed for their behavior. There’s a good chance that Kaepernick — perhaps even more than likely starter Blaine Gabbert — will become the talking point for a 49ers team that appears to be facing a tough road this season.
That road has a few added bumps in front of them now.
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