Just prior to a preseason game with the Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers backup Quarterback, refused to stand for the American national anthem. Kaepernick’s protest, against what he calls “a country that oppresses black people and people of colour” has created significant furore and debate in the NFL. He further stated to NFL media that: “to me [Kaepernick], 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.” This statement was made in reference to the number of high profile shootings of unarmed black people by police officers in various American cities. In recent times Kaepernick has become more opinionated on social media in relation to racial issues in the United States.
The debate has raised the divisive issue: what is an appropriate form of protest? Kaepernick has received support from various fellow NFL players since beginning his protest. At the time of writing 18 African-American players, derived from the Broncos, Rams, Dolphins, Patriots & other teams, have either kneeled, sat or raised a fist during the American anthem before their respective week one games, and it is likely that these protests will continue as we go into week two. Celebrities, athletes, and, most notably, President Barack Obama, have all come out in praise of Kaepernick & his right to protest. However, this opinion isn’t shared by all Americans; in a recent poll by Reuters, 61 percent surveyed said that they do not “support the stance Colin Kaepernick is taking.” Kaepernick has also received significant backlash from certain sectors of the American public, as well as members of the NFL, in recent weeks; Kaepernick was booed at the remaining preseason games he briefly played in, and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was quoted as saying “…there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.” In contrast to Kaepernick’s actions, as a sign of unity the Seattle Seahawks players linked arms during the National Anthem prior to their season opener. “I think it’s a terrible thing,” added Republican nominee Donald Trump. “and maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try. It won’t happen.”
Drafted in 2011, Kaepernick was the poster boy of the NFL; with a number of college football awards he had a promising career ahead of him. His professional career peaked when he reached Super Bowl 47 in 2013 with the 49ers. Since then, however, Kaepernick has been a player on the decline, more often than being found on the bench rather than on the field. Poor performances throughout last season & recurrent injuries has led many to believe his starting position has been permanently taken over by Blaine Gabbert. It raises the question among many people about what his genuine beliefs are, or if his actions this summer are a cry for attention now that he is a backup quarterback at a struggling team.
Protesting the American national anthem isn’t a new phenomenon, and Kaepernick isn’t the first African-American athlete to take a stand (or in this case, a kneel). In 1995 there was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf; despite being a promising basketball player with the Denver Nuggets, Abdul-Rauf has faded into relative anonymity. His decline is attributed, by many commentators, to his controversial protest during the American national anthem. At the start of the 95-96 NBA season, Abdul-Rauf chose to sit during the anthem, in protest of the American flag, which he called a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny.” He was suspended for one game, but two days later the NBA decided to allow him to simply stand with his eyes closed & his back turned during the anthem. However his career never properly recovered and was traded to Sacramento at the end of that season.
Despite all this controversy around Kaepernick and the team, the 49ers managed to easily shutout the LA Rams on Monday night with a score of 28-0, though Kaepernick himself watched the entire game from the bench. At time of writing he’s not expected to be selected as starting QB against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night. Whether the same fate awaits Kaepernick as met Abdul-Rauf yet remains uncertain.