Kaepernick kneels for injustice

Lilliawna Shaffer, Staff Writer

One of the largest conflicts in National Football League history was generated by Colin Kaepernick when he began kneeling during the United States National Anthem on Aug. 26, 2016 in protest against the oppression of people of color.

On this day his reputation immediately became a divisive topic resulting in one of two opinions: people either respected him for his bravery and dedication to stand up against social injustice, or people considered his actions as disrespectful and named him an unloyal traitor.

Kaepernick told reporters, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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,” according to Sporting News.

At the time, Kaepernick was entering his sixth sea-son with the San Francisco 49’ers. By the beginning of the regular season almost a dozen NFL players followed Kaepernick’s brave actions and began protesting alongside him.

The season continued as Kaepernick became a nationwide topic of controversy due to the protest that he set in motion. One Fox News writer said that Kaepernick “Insults Americans and Law Enforcement Officers Everywhere.”

Many people opposed this form of protest by arguing that politics should be kept out of sports, and that kneeling during the National Anthem was a major sign of disrespect to those in the military who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

People who hold this belief don’t understand that by Kaepernick using his high-profile status as a platform to speak against social injustice, he is doing more than just kneeling during a song. He is showing the world that he is passionate enough to risk his career in an attempt to bring more attention to the police brutality that is harming people of color at an extremely alarming rate.

Brave soldiers in the U.S. Military fight and give their lives to preserve our freedom. These ‘freedoms’ are derived from the U.S. Constitution, which clearly states our right to protest. Kaepernick is exercising this right to protest, not against these soldiers, but against the injustice that is taking place in our homeland.

Several military members supported Kaepernick for exercising his Constitutional right to protest, as well as standing up for racial injustice. “I wanted to put something out there in the world … to say that ‘There are veterans who not only agree with Colin Kaepernick’s right to do that, but also agree with the substance of the action,’” U.S. Army Veteran, Richard Allen writes in a letter to Kaepernick, “And are willing to stand up and say Black Lives Matter and this is an important issue that we need to address in our country.”

At the end of the 2016 through 2017 season Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49er’s and remained unsigned. In Oct. 2017 Kaepernick and former teammate Eric Reid filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement, according to ESPN. They claimed that several members of the NFL engaged in collusion against signing them to an NFL contract due to his protest.

In March 2019 Reid and Kaepernick were given 10 million dollars as a result of the settlement. This disappointing amount does not compare to the amount of money they lost as a result of not being re-signed by an NFL team.

In the meantime Kaepernick launched several organizations and got involved in several campaigns to combat oppression. “Originally fully funded by Kaepernick, he found-ed the global Know Your Rights Camps to advance the liberation of Black and Brown people through education, self-empowerment, mass-mobilization and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders,” states part of the mission statement on Kaepernick’s website.

Image from IMDB

In Oct. 2021 Kaepernick released a Netflix documentary series titled “Colin in Black and White,” which briefly explains his childhood and early young adulthood. The series is a heart-wrenching emotional show that explores the unfortunate experiences of a young Black man growing up in Central California.

One specific disheartening moment was during episode three titled “Road Trip” when Kaepernick was pulled over by a police officer while driving his family to his baseball tournament. The officer presented the very defensive and restrictive actions that are all too often seen in interactions between people of color and law enforcement.

The traumatizing effects this event had on Kaeper-nick allude to why he is so passionate about combating police brutality. Given the fact that Kaepernick himself grew up and still experiences his own injustices, his passion for Black Lives Matter was inevitable.

His ability to be involved and front line social justice movements is a blessing to minority communities. However, this does not disregard the disappointing fact that the NFL did not support him and this in turn caused his athletic career to end.

NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, describes in an interview with former NFL Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, that he should have listened to Kaepernick earlier. He later “released a video apologizing on behalf of the league for not doing a better job of listening to players’ concerns about racial inequality,” according to ESPN.

ESPN further states, “Goodell also said that players kneeling is ‘not about the flag’ and that their intentions are being “mischaracterized.” Goodell continues to say, “These are not people who are unpatriotic. They’re not disloyal. They’re not against our military.”

The NFL acknowledges they made a mistake by not supporting Kaepernick and other players who were taking a stand against racial inequality, but Kaepernick is doing bigger and better things that truly allow him to make an attempt at resolving social injustice.

Kaepernick has since signed deals with Nike and Netflix, on top of working with other Black athletes and celebrities to work in communities.

At the end of the day Kaepernick is a hero for standing up against the oppression of people of color, while law enforcement and U.S. military members are heroes for giving him the freedom to do so.