Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick spent the 2016 season kneeling during the national anthem as a means of political protest. His stance drew praise and criticism in varying measures, some agreeing with him, others applauding his right to free speech, still others disgusted with his decision.
A select few began in one camp and worked their way over to another. Among that group: Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick’s former coach and now the head coach at the University of Michigan. When news of Kaepernick’s protest first broke, Harbaugh was critical:
Jim Harbaugh on Colin Kaepernick: "I acknowledge his right to do it. But I don't respect the motivation or the action."
— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) August 29, 2016
Shortly thereafter, Harbaugh clarified his statement:
I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments. To clarify, I support Colin's motivation. It's his method of action that I take exception to
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) August 29, 2016
This week, Kaepernick was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, and who wrote the dedication honoring him? None other than Harbaugh himself.
“At times in our nation’s history,” Harbaugh writes, “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.”
Kaepernick’s own personal interests have taken a hit based on his stance. He remains unsigned by any NFL team, and it’s impossible to think that his political protests have nothing to do with that. Kaepernick wasn’t an exceptional quarterback last season, but he was serviceable enough, and surely is at least the 96th-best quarterback in the country at this point. Meantime, he’s been engaged in charitable relief efforts to bring aid to Somalia.
“How lucky for us all and for our country to have among our citizens someone as remarkable as Colin Kaepernick,” Harbaugh wrote. You can question Harbaugh’s change of heart, just as you can question Kaepernick’s motivations. But the words, and the actions, are out there now, and this story will end up defining Kaepernick’s career and legacy far more than his run to the Super Bowl.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.