NEW YORK – On Wednesday, the NFL will come face to face with the storyline that has come to define it over the past six months. The “United We Stand” rally for Colin Kaepernick – organized by nearly two dozen activists and organizations in New York – will occur right on Roger Goodell’s doorstep, and the unemployed quarterback’s message will be front and center at NFL headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.
The rally comes on the heels of an event this past weekend, where dozens of current and retired NYPD officers gathered across the East River in Brooklyn to show support for Kaepernick, whose silent protest of the “Star-Spangled Banner” became a topic of national discussion last season.
“I think [Kaepernick’s message is] important for this nation,” New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams told Yahoo Sports. “Kaepernick was trying to bring this to everyone’s attention and now you can’t ignore it. If folks had done this before, we’d be in a different position.”
Williams, who donned a Kaepernick jersey at Saturday’s event and hopes to be in attendance at Wednesday’s rally, joined the former 49ers quarterback’s protest last September when he sat for the Pledge of Allegiance during a city council meeting.
“I always stood out of respect and when Kaepernick was going through what he was going through, I felt it was time to bring out in the open how I was connected to what he was dealing with,” Williams said. “Those were the most vile messages I’ve received. Just full of hatred, racism, some threats as well, but you push through.”
Despite the debate over Kaepernick’s actions during the national anthem dying down somewhat during the 2016 NFL season, the opposite has happened during the offseason. Kaepernick, who went 1-10 with the 49ers as a starter last season, is four years removed from leading San Francisco to Super Bowl XLVII and remains without an NFL contract.
As the weeks and months have passed, Kaepernick’s name has frequently come up, and despite owning a better than 2:1 career touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 28-30 record as a starter, teams continue to pass on him. Questions about Kaepernick’s dedication to the sport, changed diet, charity work, contract demands and alleged decline have all been cited as reasons why he doesn’t have at least a backup role in the league.
“If we truly stand by the Constitution and the values that it is supposed to instill in American society, Kaepernick should technically be celebrated,” NYPD Sergeant Edwin Raymond, who helped organize Saturday’s rally, told Yahoo Sports.
“Unfortunately, people of color, certain demographics in this nation, have been treated as second-class citizens. We’re still having these experiences today.”
There is no definitive proof that the NFL and its owners are blackballing Kaepernick, however, the call for a team to sign him – or at the least recognize his message – is growing louder. In the wake of the horrific demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, where three people died, more players have joined Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem and are attempting to use their platform to promote equality.
Despite the fact that other players are joining the protest now, there is growing fear that without acknowledgment from the league and its owners, Kaepernick’s message will be lost in translation.
“Hindsight vindicates,” Raymond said. “When you fail to respect the work in the present, you end up with Mandela in Robben Island. When you don’t respect the work in the present, you end up with Rosa Parks in jail, [Muhammad] Ali being ostracized.
“The point of history is to learn so we don’t repeat it and Colin Kaepernick’s situation is really a chance to end this unfortunate situation where people who are vanguards are railroaded and then respected later.”
On Wednesday, the NFL will not only be facing a protest, it will be facing a growing movement.
“[The NFL] should make a clear, concise statement that to play in the NFL, you are not breaking any laws or any rules if you want to take a knee or not stand for the national anthem,” Williams said.
“It’s not illegal. The only place where that’s illegal is North Korea.”
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