49ers’ QB sits for National Anthem in protest of police brutality

With the NFL regular season approaching, some American football fans are getting a rude awakening from their off-season slumber. Bucking nationalistic trends that permeate the NFL, San Francisco 49ers’ back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick will continue to sit during the United States’ national anthem in the regular season as he has in the pre-season.

“Yes, I’ll continue to sit,” said Kaepernick to a media scrum in the locker room after Sunday’s pre-season game, “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change, and when there’s a significant change and I feel that that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing what it’s supposed to represent, then I’ll stand.”

Predictably, Kaepernick’s protest has drawn the ire of some fans, including some fans of the 49ers who’ve gone as far as to burn their number 7 jerseys. Reporters from conservative media have called Kaepernick a “cocky child” and demanded he move to Canada, while the level of racist debasement found on Twitter goes even further and is too sick to reprint.

Yet, Colin Kaepernick finds himself in the company of legends of the sports world who have made their voices heard on the divisive issues of their day.

The recently departed Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. His reasoning was that no Vietnamese person ever oppressed him and that he, like Kaepernick, saw major injustice being doled out to the Black community.

Last season, the St. Louis Rams made an entrance onto the field with their hands up to express solidarity with the people in the streets in Ferguson who were crying out “hands up, don’t shoot,” but it’s an open secret that Kaepernick’s sort of prolonged one-man protest has a history of drawing fire from management in the NFL.

In 2014, shortly after Lebron James and others wore a shirt with the words “I can’t breathe” to practice, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers put it plainly when he was asked why it seems that NBA players were more able to speak their minds.

“I think it starts with good leadership,” said Rogers, “[NBA commissioner Adam Silver] has done a good job of promoting that type of environment and I think some guys in the NFL are probably worried about repercussions of speaking their mind from the league,” adding, “I think if more guys maybe did in our league, it would create a domino effect possibly.” NFL commissioner Roger Goddell is famously a Republican.

Rumors abound about retaliation for activism, but like people in most jobs, football players are faced with an almost insurmountable burden of proof. Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe was with the Vikings for eight years until he stepped into the political fray to defend marriage rights for same sex couples. You can read his story here and make up your own mind about whether or not it was retaliation.

From the 1968 Olympics black power salute, to Ali, to Lebron James wearing an “I can’t breathe” shirt, to now Colin Kaepernick, sports stars have occasionally acted as advocates for progressive causes and nearly every time they have received the scorn of the powers-that-be and reactionary fans. Let’s hope that Colin Kaepernick can be that first domino this season and that his brave protest does not see him sacked.

Photo: Colin Kaepernick.  |  wordpress


Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.