The 49ers’ fourth preseason game is sure to be charged with emotion, drama, contention and honor – most of it before kickoff.
For most viewers, the highlight of Thursday night’s exhibition against the San Diego Chargers, typically the biggest throwaway game of the preseason, will be the performance of the national anthem at Qualcomm Stadium. It already promised to be an event given quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down in protest of how minorities are treated in this country.
The pregame ceremony will be amplified even more considering the game will be the Chargers’ “Salute to the Military,” which the team holds every preseason. The festivities will include a giant American flag, retired Navy SEALS parachuting into the stadium and a U.S. Navy petty officer singing not only “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the game but “God Bless America” before the third quarter.
Kaepernick said Sunday he’s not taking a swipe at the military.
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“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” he said. “I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening (for everyone).”
While Kaepernick can expect boos when he runs onto the field – he probably will start – he’s also received support and understanding from Armed Forces members.
On Tuesday night, #VeteransforKaepernick began trending on Twitter, at one point becoming the nation’s No. 1 topic. It featured users who identified themselves as veterans sending messages of support for the quarterback.
Wrote Twitter user Charles Bassett: “My grandfather served so Rosa Parks could sit down. I served so Kaepernick could sit down.”
Kaepernick also was the subject of a letter on ArmyTimes.com by Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret who had a short stint as a long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks during last year’s preseason. Earlier in 2015, Boyer tried out for the 49ers.
Boyer admitted his initial reaction to Kaepernick’s protest was anger but he would try to understand what the quarterback is doing.
“There are already plenty people fighting fire with fire, and it’s just not helping anyone or anything,” Boyer wrote. “So I’m just going to keep listening, with an open mind. I look forward to the day you’re inspired to once again stand during our national anthem. I’ll be standing right there next to you. Keep on trying.”
Teams typically don’t play their starters long – or at all – in the fourth preseason game. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, for example, will not play.
But 49ers coach Chip Kelly noted Kaepernick’s recent bout with a sore shoulder meant he has 30 fewer preseason snaps than Gabbert. Consequently, Kelly does not yet have enough information for deciding on his Week 1 starting quarterback, so Kaepernick will play, giving the preseason finale more significance than usual.
“We’ve got a good understanding of where Blaine is,” Kelly said. “And unfortunately because of Colin’s injury and missing those first two preseason games, he’s only got 13 snaps. So we’ve got to move forward and see if we can get him some more snaps here.”
Kaepernick said he is not worried about his personal safety in Thursday’s game. The Chargers said there has been no spike in ticket sales because of the controversy and there will not be added security.
“Not really too concerned about that,” Kaepernick said. “At the end of the day, if something happens, that’s only proving my point.”