Colin Kaepernick, the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, drew jeers and cheers during the NFL preseason when he chose not to stand for the playing of the national anthem. Now, during the opening week of the National Football League season, more players have joined Mr. Kaepernick in passive protests over racial injustice. And some are now pledging to do more than participate in pre-game protests.
"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 to media, as NFL.com reported, following a late August preseason game against the Greenbay Packers. "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."
Kaepernick’s decision not to stand brought a swift backlash as some fans immediately posted videos of themselves burning his jersey while playing the national anthem, the Daily Mail reported. Others highlighted images of wounded veterans holding themselves upright in wheelchairs. Another video surfaced of US Olympic pole vaulter and bronze medalist Sam Kendricks, who is a second lieutenant in the US Army Reserve, stopping mid-run to stand at attention when he heard the national anthem playing during his qualifying round, reported The Washington Post.
But this past weekend saw more NFL players joining the protest – kneeling or locking arms as a team – during the national anthem, drawing further commentary from sports pundits to swimsuit models. Brendan Marshall, a linebacker for the Denver Broncos even lost a sponsorship by taking a knee during the anthem, Reuters reported.
NFL Hall of Fame coach and two-time Super Bowl Champion, Tony Dungy weighed in on NBC's "Football Night in America," saying that as a coach he took America's national anthem very seriously. In fact, his teams practiced it and even video-taped it during preseason games.
"My dad was a teacher. He had enlisted in the service to fight in World War II. And he did that even though he knew when he came back he wouldn't be able to ride in the front of some buses. He wouldn't be able to teach in white schools. But he fought for our country." Mr. Dungy said, talking about his own experience following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1968 Olympics. "And when I asked him what I should do, he said, 'Do what you think is going to help make the situation better.' "
Dungy went on to say that as a coach he would have supported players' decision to kneel during the anthem if they could explain what exactly they were doing that would positively impact their situation, as opposed to simply following another player's lead.
This past Sunday, as pre-game events commemorated the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks stood, at their respective games, together on the sideline as a team with their arms locked together throughout the duration of the national anthem as a gesture of solidarity, reported USA Today.
However, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman – no stranger to the media himself with some of his outspoken comments – articulated a similar point as Dungy, telling the Seattle Times that, "gestures mean nothing without follow-through.... People get confused that you gotta go out there and make this gesture and then make people aware of it – but we're more about action."
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin agreed. "The difference between a mob and a movement is the follow-through," he said, stating that part of their action is setting up meetings with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray as well as with police departments throughout Washington. Sherman (a Stanford graduate) also described how he and his teammates go into the inner city with backpacks and school supplies for impoverished kids who otherwise wouldn't have access to them.
Are other NFL players doing more than protesting? Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million of his $11.9 million base salary to various charities working to improve the issues he is passionate about. Last Thursday, the San Francisco 49ers announced that they, too, have pledged $1 million to two Bay Area organizations that focus on the type of racial and social inequities that Kaepernick has raised concerns about, KTLA.com reported.
And Kaepernick isn't just protesting, reports The Christian Science Monitor, he is also listening as evidenced by his decision to move from sitting to kneeling as a protest, after a conversation with a teammate.
Kaepernick said he decided to kneel after a conversation with Boyer before the game. Boyer had published an open letter to Kaepernick in The Army Times the day before.
“Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger,” he wrote. “I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it.”
It appears that Kaepernick listened to him as well. Boyer told the NFL Network that he encouraged the quarterback to kneel, rather than sit.