Colin Kaepernick took a knee for Thursday’s national anthem, arms folded, expressionless. This time, he had company. He was joined by one of his teammates, and a Seattle Seahawks player a few hours up the California coast who was protesting as well.
Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem before the San Francisco 49ers’ preseason finale at the San Diego Chargers. Kaepernick said last Sunday he wouldn’t stand for the national anthem, a protest he started during the 49ers’ first three preseason games. Kaepernick said he is protesting racial injustice in the United States, and police brutality in particular.
“I’m not anti-American. I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this,” Kaepernick said. “I want to make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from. And those conversations are important to have, because the better we understand each other, the better we know each other, the better we can deal and communicate with each other, which ultimately puts everybody in a better position.”
49ers safety Eric Reid, who was not in uniform because many starters don’t play in the fourth preseason game, took a knee next to Kaepernick during the anthem. After the game Reid said it was Kaepernick’s idea to take a knee and not sit, because it showed more respect” to the anthem and the military.
“It was amazing,” Kaepernick said in his postgame news conference, which was broadcast on NFL Network. “We wanted to make sure the message we’re trying to send isn’t lost with the action that’s coming along with it.”
Kaepernick said he’d probably continue to take a knee, and “as far as how long this goes, I’m not sure.”
Reid hugged Kaepernick when the anthem was over, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News said many teammates and Nate Boyer, a former University of Texas long snapper and Green Beret, hugged Kaepernick after the anthem. Boyer this week supported Kaepernick’s right to protest during the anthem and tweeted out a photo of him and Kaepernick together on Thursday.
Thanks for the invite brother… Good talk. Let's just keep moving forward. This is what America should be all about pic.twitter.com/LgjPpjk173
— Nate Boyer (@NateBoyer37) September 2, 2016
The two 49ers weren’t alone. According to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times and Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune, Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sat down during the national anthem before his team’s game against the Raiders in Oakland.
“It’s something I plan to keep doing until I feel like justice is being served,” Lane said after the game, according to Condotta.
NFL Network showed the Chargers-49ers national anthem live, occasionally cutting to shots of Kaepernick sitting. Reid has spoken out about political issues before; he wrote a first-person column for The MMQB in July regarding Alton Sterling being shot and killed by police in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La.
Kaepernick said it was “disappointing” that the message of his protest was lost in the debate about everything else surrounding it in the past week.
“I think that’s something that’s hard for this country to address, and that’s what the real issues are and coming to the point where we can admit these are issues,” Kaepernick said after the game. “Once we admit that, we can deal with it, we can fix them and we can make this country and these communities a better place.”
Kaepernick said he was planning to continue to speak out and take action as well. He said he’d donate the first $1 million he’d make this season to “help these communities and help these people.” (Yahoo’s Charles Robinson wrote about how Kaepernick planned to move his message forward.)
“It was something I was thinking about to try to make sure I’m not just talking about something, but I’m actively being involved and actively trying to make a change in these communities,” Kaepernick said. “I’ve been very blessed to be in this position and to make the kind of money I do, and I have to help these people, I have to help these communities. It’s not right they’re not put in the position to succeed or given those opportunities to succeed.”
Alex Flanagan of NFL Network said there were San Diego police officers staying close to Kaepernick during pregame warmups. Flanagan said it was because the police wanted to provide extra security for him.
Before the two West Coast games kicked off, there were no reported instances of any other player sitting down during the national anthem on Thursday night. Nobody sat during the anthem before the Washington Redskins-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Wednesday night either.
The Chargers, coincidentally enough, held their 28th annual “Salute to the Military” for Thursday night’s game. Although Kaepernick never said anything negative about the military when explaining his protest and the national anthem has meaning to more than just military personnel, some people oddly framed the entire issue as Kaepernick disrespecting the military. That didn’t make much logical sense, but it was rich that Thursday happened to be military appreciation night at Qualcomm Stadium.
“I think it’s a misunderstanding,” Kaepernick said after the game. “The media painted this as I’m anti-American, anti-men and women of the military. That’s not the case at all. I realize men and women of the military sacrifice their lives and put their selves in harm’s way for my freedom of speech and my freedoms in this country and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee. So I have the utmost respect for them. I think what I did was taken out of context and spun a different way.”
Colin Kaepernick was standing and applauding with teammates as military members were recognized. "God Bless USA" was playing. #49ers
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) September 2, 2016
Kaepernick is still clapping, staring at the screen as soldiers in the stands are shown. "God Bless the USA" playing.
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) September 2, 2016
Kaepernick started Thursday’s game and was booed often in San Francisco’s first drive. He finished 11-of-18 for 103 passing yards in the first half.
Kaepernick’s anthem protest became huge news in the NFL world last Saturday, after some in the media caught on that he was sitting out. He sat during the anthem in the 49ers’ first two preseason games but that went unnoticed, perhaps because he was injured and didn’t dress out in either game. The story turned into polling seemingly every player and coach for his opinion and even some outrage over tasteless socks Kaepernick wore earlier this month. Yep, Kaepernick’s socks became a hot-button topic on social media Thursday. Didn’t expect that a week ago, did you?
Amid the discussion about his anthem protest, there was a side conversation about Kaepernick possibly not making the 49ers’ roster. He struggled for most of the past two seasons, missed a lot of offseason work recovering from multiple surgeries and didn’t play well in last week’s preseason game, his first preseason action this year. Jay Glazer said on Fox last week that Kaepernick might get cut before the regular season, and Glazer said that would have nothing to do with his political stance. It’s hard to believe, if Kaepernick gets cut, that this controversy wouldn’t have anything to do with the decision.
Kaepernick’s protest led to a week of debate, with strong views on both sides. Kaepernick said during a half-hour interview session on Sunday that he would continue to protest during the anthem until things changed.
“The dream result would be equality. Justice for everybody,” Kaepernick said. “This is something about human rights. It’s about the people. It isn’t about anything other than that. Some people aren’t given the same rights, aren’t given the same opportunities as others. That’s really what the issue is.”
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