Days before Super Bowl LIII, several prominent NBA players are standing in solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James both donned black Kaepernick jerseys ahead of their games this week as takes have heated up about the blackballed quarterback.
Despite being a competent quarterback and willing to play as a backup, no team has signed Kaepernick since the end of the 2016 season, when he kneeled to protest police brutality and racial injustice during the national anthem. Kaepernick has an ongoing collusion case against the league and has become a sort of civil rights symbol in the meantime.
A post shared by colin kaepernick (@kaepernick7) on Feb 1, 2019 at 9:43am PST
Kaepernick shouted out Durant for wearing his #ImWithKap jersey before the Warriors’ loss on Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Kaepernick promoted the jerseys sold in the style of the 49ers’ black alternate with reportedly all profits going to support Know Your Rights Camp.
James also wore a similar jersey coming off a plane Friday before the Lakers’ game against the Warriors. Kaepernick additionally posted pictures thanking political activist Angela Davis, Grammy nominated R&B singer Trey Songz and Red Bull 3 Style World Champion DJ J. Espinosa for their support.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 2, 2019
Standing by Kaepernick is nothing new for athletes, including James, who wore the quarterback’s jersey to an NBA preseason game in October and pledged to support his Nike campaign in September. However, it is notable considering the latest discourse around him and the league.
Goodell continues to avoid Kaepernick questions
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held his annual Super Bowl news conference on Wednesday and, as has become tradition, fielded and dodged several questions about Kaepernick. When asked if he was comfortable with how history may look back on the league’s handling of Kaepernick, he continued to deflect blame.
“Our clubs are the ones that make decisions on players that they want to have on their roster,” Goodell said. “They make that individually. They make that in the best interests of their team. And that’s something that we as the NFL take pride in. … Maybe they make decisions that another club won’t. And they all want to win.”
This idea, though, falls flat considering the state of many would-be contending teams’ depth charts. Kaepernick may not be a Pro Bowl-level quarterback, but he’s certainly more serviceable than the players the Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars went with.
Washington fell out of the playoffs when it was too proud to sign Kaepernick after Alex Smith’s devastating leg injury, daring to say he wouldn’t fit in its system despite having taken over for Smith previously in San Francisco. Instead, the Redskins turned to Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson, who hadn’t thrown a pass in the league since 2011. Meanwhile, the Jaguars went from runner-up in the AFC to the third-worst record in the conference because of poor QB play and tried to make a playoff push with failed Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler.
Backlash is affecting the Super Bowl halftime show
The uproar surrounding Kaepernick’s absence has even trickled down to the Super Bowl halftime show, where multiple major artists have turned down the league because of its treatment of Kaepernick. It became so bad that the NFL cancelled Maroon 5’s pre-Super Bowl news conference to avoid questions about the quarterback.
Maroon 5 will certainly sing their hit single “Girls Like You,” but Cardi B will not be there to sing her featured verse after turning down the league in support of Kaepernick. Inspired by her husband Offset, a rapper from nearby Lawrenceville, Georgia, she said, “I got to sacrifice a lot of money to perform. But there’s a man who sacrificed his job for us, so we got to stand behind him.”
Meanwhile, Rihanna turned down the chance to headline the halftime show for the same reason, and Jay-Z, Common, Nick Cannon and Meek Mill have all called on fellow rapper Travis Scott to pull out of the show.
After all the backlash, the NFL and many of the artists performing at the halftime show all decided to make sizable charitable donations. The same day that the NFL cancelled Maroon 5’s press conference, the league and the band announced a $500,000 donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters. Two weeks earlier, the league and Scott donated another half a million dollars to social justice-focused non-profit Dream Corps.
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