When Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest became public in August, there were all sorts of predictions and admonitions about how the stance would tear apart the 49ers’ locker room.
They were wrong. The 49ers players on Friday voted Kaepernick the winner of the annual Len Eshmont Award, the team’s most prestigious honor and one that’s been won by team leaders Anquan Boldin, Frank Gore, NaVorro Bowman and Justin Smith the previous four years.
The award was established in 1957 and goes to the 49er who best exemplifies the “inspirational and courageous play of Eshmont”, an original member of the inaugural 1946 squad.
Left tackle Joe Staley won the team’s MVP honor, the Bill Walsh Award, as voted on by coaches while Zane Beadles, who has started at three positions this month, was given the Bobb McKittrick Award, which goes to the offensive lineman who best embodies courage, intensity and sacrifice.
Safety Antoine Bethea, who has started all 15 games a year after suffering a torn pectoral muscle, won the Matt Hazeltine Iron Man Award, rookie defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was given the Thomas Herrion Award, which always goes to a rookie or first-year player and Glenn Dorsey is the Ed Block Courage Award winner. The veteran defensive lineman returned from an ACL tear suffered last November.
Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the anthem ceremony, meanwhile, underscored a massive divide in this country with legions railing against him for what they saw as disrespect for the flag while others supporting his effort to draw attention to issues in minority communities, particularly police brutality.
The stance drew a derisive comment from President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign and landed Kaepernick on the cover of TIME magazine. The quarterback routinely is met by a cascade of boos when he jogs onto the field in opposing venues.
Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million toward groups that support his cause -- he’s doing so in $25,000 increments and has given $200,000 so far -- and the 49ers matched that amount with a donation in September.
Still, Kaepernick’s future with the team remains cloudy. He’s scheduled to earn nearly $15 million in 2017. Unlike in recent years, however, that money isn’t guaranteed, meaning the 49ers can release him at any point with little consequence to their salary cap. Furthermore, Kaepernick can opt out of the deal and test free agency in March.
Staley questionable –The 49ers list Joe Staley as questionable for Sunday’s finale against the Seahawks, but two other offensive linemen have been ruled out for the game.
They are center Marcus Martin and guard Andrew Tiller, both of whom are dealing with ankle injuries and neither of whom practiced the last two days.
Staley, meanwhile, has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury but returned to practice this week and said he wants to play. He’s been listed as a limited participant all week.
“(I’m) pretty optimistic I’ll be able to go this week,” Staley said Tuesday. “...If I’m healthy I’m 100 percent playing. It (stinks) being out. I’ve prided myself on being available to the football team every single week.”
Last week, the starting group was: LT Trent Brown, LG Tiller, C Zane Beadles, RG Joshua Garnett and RT John Theus. It’s likely that either rookie Alex Balducci or newcomer Andrew Gardner will start at left guard against the Seahawks.
Meanwhile, starting cornerback Rashard Robinson was added to the injury report Friday with a hamstring strain. He was listed as limited in Friday’s session. He and defensive back Dontae Johnson (groin) are listed as questionable for the game.
Seattle has ruled out running back C.J. Prosise (shoulder).