When San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat for the national anthem, I didn’t have the visceral reaction of most.
Honestly, I didn’t have much of a reaction at all.
I’m not sure why. I suppose I wanted to think about it. I wanted to listen to him.
“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 said after the Aug. 26 49ers’ preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, according to an NFL.com report. “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.”
However, he quickly changed gears after seeing the negative reaction. So, according to an ESPN.com story, he and teammate and supporter Eric Reid consulted with Eric Boyer, a former NFL player and Army Green Beret, and came to the conclusion that kneeling would be more respectful.
“We were talking to him about how can we get the message back on track and not take away from the military, not take away from pride in our country but keep the focus on what the issues really are,” Kaepernick said. “As we talked about it, we came up with taking a knee because there are issues that still need to be addressed, and there was also a way to show more respect for the men and women that fight for this country.”
Even with the switch, he remains exceedingly unpopular amongst the general public, says an ESPN.com report.
A recent poll says of the 350 players inquired about, he is the most disliked, sitting at 29 percent.
However, amongst African-American fans, his popularity is high with 42 percent saying they like him “a lot.”
And, for a time, his jersey sales jumped markedly, becoming the most league’s most sold.
So, he certainly is drawing attention through his popularity or infamy, depending on how you look at it, and his point seems to be made with each police shooting of a black man.
Just last week, Terence Crutcher, who was unarmed, was gunned down by Tulsa, Okla., police.
Less than a week later, charges were filed against Officer Betty Shelby, which is a lot more than the lack of justice given Michael Brown and his family after his deadly shooting in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
Did Kaepernick’s kneeling make a difference in the legal action following Crutcher’s death? That may be a stretch, but no one can doubt his influence is spreading as other NFL players have taken his lead.
Sports Illustrated published a list of players protesting, some by kneeling; some by raising their fists in the air, comparable to the protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics; and some by locking arms in a show of unity, like the entire Seattle Seahawks sideline.
The list includes Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs; four members of the Miami Dolphins, running back Arian Foster, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Michael Thomas; and Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots.
And the influence doesn’t stop with the NFL.
At the Friday night Texas Christian University-Southern Methodist University football game, band members, while they were playing the national anthem, kneeled, as did some students, according to a report on ESPN.com.
Even my wife, an alumna of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, wrote a stirring column for her hometown newspaper, the Daily Gate City, in the wake of Crutcher’s death calling for police accountability.
But, sadly, there are those who refuse to look past Kaepernick’s kneeling. In doing so, they refuse to acknowledge the injustices perpetrated upon African-American men.
Perhaps the most telling quote belongs to former Chicago Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka, who is an analyst for ESPN.
“I think it’s a problem … anybody who disrespects this country and the flag,” he said, according to an ABC news report. “If they don’t like the country, they don’t like our flag … get the hell out.”
“I have no respect for Colin Kaepernick — he probably has no respect for me, that’s his choice,” he goes on. “My choice is, I like this country, I respect our flag, and I don’t see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on.”
He doesn’t see the atrocities? Maybe he should talk to the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, all of whom died at the hands of police.
Every one of them lived in relative anonymity before their fatal encounters, but now, those names have become synonymous with the struggle facing African-American males and police.
Whether you like Kaepernick’s method of protest, the fact remains we have a definite problem in America today, and it needs to be fixed.
And, to his credit, Kaepernick is backing up his words.
“I want to thank everyone who has shown me love and support, it truly means a lot! I wasn’t expecting my jersey sales to jump to number one because of this, but it shows the people’s belief that we can achieve justice and equality for ALL!” he wrote on his Instagram account. “The only way I can repay you for the support is to return the favor by donating all the proceeds I receive from my jersey sales back into the communities! I believe in the people, and WE can be the change!”
This is in addition to his vow to donate the first $1 million of his salary this season.
“I’ve been very blessed to be in this position and be able to make the kind of money I do,” Kaepernick said, according to an ABC report. “I have to help these communities. It’s not right that they’re not put in the position to succeed or given those opportunities to succeed.”
I, for one, now applaud his stance and actions and admire his courage in the midst of all the noise.
Here’s wishing him continued success.